Fighter Rafale F3-R / F4

The Rafale is a French twin-engine multi-role fighter aircraft, which can carry its payload using 14 positions and is equipped with a very wide range of surface-to-air and surface-to-air missiles. The aircraft may carry out air superiority, air defense, close air support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship and nuclear strike missions. It was been operational with the French Navy since 2004 and with the French Air Force since 2006, and it has seen action in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Iraq and Syria. The aircraft has been exported to Egypt, Qatar, India and now Greece.

Dimensions 15,27/10,8/5,34 m
Wing surface45,7 sqm
Weight (empty / maximum)9.500/19.000 kilos
Autonomy1.100 m / 1800km
Engines2 x SNECMA M88
Maximum thrust33.000 lbs
Initial climb rate1.000 ft/sec ή 305 m/sec
Maximum speed2.150 mph / 1,8 mach
Ceiling55.000 ft (16,8 km)
Photo of Rafale
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Although it can not be described as stealthy, Rafale is designed to have the lowest possible radar trace and it is also equipped with the electronic warfare system, SPECTRA, developed by Thales. The existence of 2 engines offers the possibility of carrying enhanced payload in comparison to single-engine aircraft, such as the F-16 which HAF also operates. Due to the combination of a Delta type wing and maneuvering fins (canards), the aircraft offers exceptional manouverability and at the same time maintains stability during flight. It can take off from small runways of about 400 meters, as well as from aircraft carriers.

Rafale variants

The French Rafale was developed almost simultaneously with the Eurofighter EF2000, which then led to the Typhoon built by Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. The initial alliance was dissolved when France decided to develop an aircarft on its own. The Eurofighter "Typhoon" flew in March 1994, while the first Rafale C made its maiden flight as a prototype in 1991.

The F1 version (2000-2006) of the Rafale is equipped with a PESA RBE2 radar (Passive Electronically Scanned Array), but only offers basic air combat capabilities using MICA missiles of the EM and Magic II versions. Th aircraft is also equipped with the SPECTRA electronic warfare and is capable of low-altitude flight as well air refuelling.

Version F2 (2006-2009) of the aircraft can launch the MICA ER missile, and the SCALP-EG and AASM (Armement Air-Sol Modulaire) guided bombs. It also received Link-16, while the RBE2 radar was upgraded with air-to-ground capabilities and surface-to-air. The SPECTRA system has been improved, and the aircraft acquired flight capability in low altitude through the use of stored data files.

In November 2018, the development of the F3-R version was approved, offering significant improvements, such as the RBE-2AA electronic scanning radar (AESA), the certification of MICA NG (New Generation) and Meteor, as well as TALIOS pods for identification and aiming, and AEROS pods for tactical and strategic reconaissance. Greece will receive this version of Rafale aircraft.

The F4 version will offer enhanced capabilities in a network-centric environment, while the processes of collecting, processing and data transmission are improved both in terms of computing power and storage space, as well as in terms of data processing speeds and security of transmission to and from other friendly platforms. Emphasis is given on the survivability of the aircraft, by strengthening the SPECTRA electronic warfare system, the system of diagnosis and troubleshooting is also improved by adopting a new portable diagnostic system for technical personell. The goal is to increase the availability of the aircraft and reduce support costs, through fast and reliable diagnostic procedures.

Rafale Armament

The most important addition to the Greek arsenal is the adoption of MICA NG and Meteor missiles. MICA NG will have a longer range and more capable sensors than the previous version, while it can be launched without requiring the enemy aircraft to be locked on. The missile is guided through a data link system to the specific area of ​​interest and the pilot can activate either the infrared or the missile's radar detector in order to achieve the lock on the target. This means that the opponent will not receive an early warning for the incoming threat, since the lock can be achieved in a completely passive way.

Ranges of the SCALP-EG and METEOR missiles in Greece

Rafale's greatest asset in Air-to-Air warfare is the MBDA Meteor missile, which offers the longest range in the western arsenal, but also the highest mortality characteristics. Acquiring them will offer a huge advantage to the Hellenic Airforce, but the cost of Meteor missiles is very high, with reported costs ranging between 2 and 5 million euros per unit! For this reason, even the French Air Force seeks to purchase relatively small numbers to neutralize "high value targets" such as AWACS / AEW & C aircraft and air tankers. For all other missions, improved MICA NGs will be obtained in higher numbers.

The aircraft will also be certified for guided bombs AASM of 2,200 pounds. These bombs are similar to JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munitions), but with a propulsion engine, which increases their maximum range to about 60 kilometers, depending on the height of release.

The Greek Rafales

The used Rafale aircraft for the Hellenic Air Force have been manufactured between 2012 and 2018. They belong to the F3-O4T sub-version, but will be upgraded before delivery to F3-R and thus match the newly-built aircraft that are also on order. This means that they will be equipped with the AESA RBE-2 radar, IRST and SPECTRA system, together with additional modifications that have been deemed necessary by Greek army officials. One of the main differences is that the pilot will wear a TARGO II helmet, built by the Israeli Elbit company. The Helmet Mounted Display brought about a "revolution" to aerial combat when it first appeared and today it is considered inconceivable for pilots not to be provided with such systems. TARGO II will maximize the lethality of Mica air-to-air missiles in close air combat.

As the Minister of Defense highlighted in his speach in the Hellenic Parliament, the used Rafales that will be handed over by the French Air Force will still have 70% of their operational life available, that is 3,500 hours out of a total of 5,000 hours, which is the life limit of each "Rafale". At the same time, there is a possibility of structural upgrades of the aircraft in 2023 to 7,000 hours and in 2025 at 9,000 hours.

The addition of this aircraft to the Hellenic Airforce provides it with strategic capabilities never seen before. This is due to their extended autonomy, which reaches 920 nautical miles (1700 km) with full internal fuel (4,750 kg) and three external fuel tanks with a capacity of 2000 liters each. This autonomy can cover the entire Balkans area, the Turkish hinterland and of course the vital for the Greek interests coverage of the southeastern Mediterranean area.

Rafale aircraft can carry most, if not all, of the weapons currently available to Greek Mirage 2000 and Mirage 2000-5. In addition to these, the Rafale F3R and F4 variants will be able to carry two SCALP missiles simultaneously for sub-strategic missions, against only one of the Mirage 2000-5. The procurement includes 14 single and 4 two-seater (two new and two used) aircraft, as well as the provision of training, a flight simulator and technical support package for the first years.

The procurement contract

The cost of the program will be absorbed by the 2021 - 2025 Greek military budget, and it is estimated to about 2.49 billion euros, which will be paid as follows: 1.509 billion in 2021, 472 million in 2022, 408 million in 2023, 67 million in 2024 and the last 34 million in 2025. The contract includes 1.8 billion euros for 18 aircraft, 120 million euros for a 4-year FOS and 400 million euros for weapons. It is estimated that the cost for each used aircraft is 45 million euros and 90 million euros for each new one (which will also include some used sub-systems in order to accelarate delivery and reduce the overall cost). The contract also includes the procurement of a flight simulator and the following armament:

  • Meteor air-to-air missiles
  • Mica RF Air-to-Air Missiles
  • Mica IR Air-to-Air Missiles
  • Scalp long-range cruise missiles
  • Exocet AM39 Block2 Mod2
  • Machine gun ammunition (30 mm)

Cost of use

The Rafale is a very expensive aircraft, not only to procure but also to operate. A study by the renowned British Jane's magazine in 2012, places the cost per flight hour at $16,500 versus about $7,000 / hour in the case of the F-16s. Similarly, a report by the French Auditor Conference in 2014, which analyzed the cost of using French fighters for five years between 2009 and 2013, revealed that for the Mirage 2000 the cost was 8,082 euros/hour, while for the Rafale more than 14,596 euros/hour.

I. Androulakis - 16 September 2020

Ηλεκτρολόγος Δημήτρης Ανθής