The DGA announced plans for a ‘post-F3’ standard, to follow the aircraft now on order, in January 2006. These would be required for service after 2012, when the last eight F3 models are now expected to be delivered. Key features of the new standard were to include a self-designated LGB capability using the Damocles laser designator pod, an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, modernisation of the Optronique Secteur Frontal (front sector optronics, or OSF), and improvements to the Spectra self-protection system.
Though part of the ‘Roadmap’ contract, the Damocles pod will be integrated early, and is expected to be in use by F3 standard Rafales after 2008.
The AESA radar will be based on the DRAAMA testbed, currently expected to fly next year, which will add an active array to the existing RBE2 radar’s ‘back end’. The new radar is expected to fly in Falcon and Rafale testbeds from 2008, leading to qualification in 2009 and evaluation in 2010, and with the first serial production radar to be delivered in 2011, in time for the first ‘Roadmap Rafale’.
The upgraded optronics package, known as OSF-IT, will address known obsolescence issues with the original OSF and will have performance and capability improvements, and an increase in wavelength coverage.
Some reports suggest that the new OSF-IT will not have an IR channel at all, meaning that Rafale would lose its onboard IRST and FLIR capabilities, relying on the Damocles targeting pod to provide any IR picture. There has been speculation that the loss of the IR is required to make space for the larger AESA radar boxes. Because the OSF-IT and the new radar will be validated together (to save duplication in the flight test effort), the new OSF will not be incorporated until the ‘Roadmap’ aircraft, though it could have been made available much earlier.
The ‘Roadmap’ Rafale will also have a new DDM-NG new generation missile warning system. This is a “form, fit, and function” replacement for the original DDM, and is based on a staring array sensor with a long range, a very large field of view and with sufficiently high angular accuracy to be compatible with DIRCM systems. Advanced algorithms will ensure a very low false alarm rate.
Development of the new radar, OSF and other systems is being funded by deferring the delivery of, and therefore the payment for, eight of the F3 standard Rafales.
There are no plans for the new standard to incorporate conformal fuel tanks as was once expected, nor is a more powerful engine expected. Despite this, the ‘Roadmap’ promises to address some of the shortcomings that were perceived to have counted against the aircraft in the evaluations in Singapore and Korea, and may help the aircraft in future export campaigns.
Dassault will not talk about reported interest from Morocco, but company sources admit to having made an unsolicited bid for 40 aircraft to India in February, and list Greece and Switzerland as prospects.