With a first sensor already in the advanced stages of test and evaluation at its air force's Mont-de-Marsan air base, an operational French squadron will within the next few weeks receive its first Dassault Rafale equipped with a new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

"The first aircraft equipped with the new antenna will be delivered to the forces in late June or early July," says Bruno Carrara, Rafale programme director for RBE2 radar supplier Thales. The sensor in question was delivered to Dassault's final assembly site in Merignac at the end of 2012, he adds.

Adding the new array to the Rafale forms part of a fourth domestic production order for the Rafale, which covers the delivery of a combined 60 aircraft for the French air force and navy. Production of the AESA antenna is now running at a rate of 11 per year, Carrara says.

Benefits of the new system include a reported doubling of detection range against airborne threats and an ability to produce ground imagery for support air-to-ground operations. It also forms part of proposals to export the Rafale to international customers.

"Mont-de-Marsan is in charge to define the tactics on how they will use this new piece of equipment," Carrara says. "The feedback we have from their tests shows that we have managed to meet all expectations."

Thales is also performing risk-reduction work for the French defence ministry on a new laser designation pod, which is planned to succeed the company's current Damocles system supplied for the nation's Rafales.

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Source: Flight Daily News