French aircraft manufacturer Dassault has received the green light from Paris to start working on the Rafale F4, the latest variant of the French fighter jet. Minister for Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian this week authorized the start of development of the new Rafale F4, which follows the F3R standard.
Dassault in its response said it wishes to thank the French Ministry of Defense, the Defense procurement agency (DGA), the French Air Force and the Navy for their confidence.
The new variant is part of a continuous effort to adapt the Rafale to changing needs through a succession of standards, according to Dassault. It’s safe to say the F4 will incorporate increased performance and weapons capabilities, plus possibly increased situational awareness and information sharing features also. As early as 2023, a first version of the F4 standard will follow the F3R standard, which is scheduled for qualification in 2018.
“I am also delighted that the Defense Ministry underlines the need to continue with acquisition of the Rafale, beyond the 4th tranche currently in production, in order primarily to meet the needs of the French Air Force”, stated Dassault CEO Eric Trappier.
After many years of hesitation, the US this week gave the green light for the sale of fighter jets to Kuwait and Qatar – although it may very well be too late. Since requesting the jets, both countries have decided to buy Eurofighter Typhoons and Dassault Rafales respectively. Their response to the green light from Washington remains unclear at this time.
Kuwait in 2015 requested to buy up at least F-18 Super Hornets to replace ageing older model F-18s, while Qatar’s request to purchase up to 72 Boeing F-15s goes even further back. Washington since has kept both countries in the dark about their request right until this week, when the White House notified US Congress that it approves the sale of the fighter jets.
The decision should be seen in light of the recent multi-billion military aid deal between the US and Israel, the biggest ever between those two countries. Probably to keep things in balance, the White House now decided to favour Kuwait’s and Qatar’s requests as well – doing the US economy a big favour on the side. Both contracts would be worth billions and billions of dollars (in fact, 20 billion in total), much of which will go into Boeing’s pocket. The aircraft manufacturer produces both the F-15 and F-18.
That’s a lot of money to pay already. It may be the same money that Kuwait and Qater waved in front of the US before. Time will tell if there is any money left for Washington and Boeing to grab. If not, then Washington may hope to sell brand new F-16s to Bahrain – another pending deal that was okayed this week by Washington.
France and India on Friday 23 September signed a contract finalizing the acquisition by India of 36 Rafales, compromising 28 single seat and 8 two seater aircraft. The contract ends a proces that has caused headaches in both countries for years, but especially since Indian Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, in April 2015 said his country would purchase the Rafale.
Actually, India chose the Rafale three years before, when in 2012 the French jet came out winning a competition with other fighter jets that already started in 2007. According to Dassault, the new contract ‘demonstrates the strategic relationship and the exemplary partnership between the two countries, and marks the natural culmination of a relationship of trust born in 1953 when India became the first export customer of Dassault Aviation’.
But trust seemed hard to find over the last few years, when fact and fiction about the pending deal became very hard to distinguish from each other. At times, negotiations seemed to be fought out in the media, rather than over the negotiation table. Price, technology transfer and difficulties over license production in India were at the hard of tough talks.
In the midst of this, India saw delivery of newly updated Dassault Mirage 2000s. In the Indian Air Force, the new Rafales will mainly update next to Sukhoi Su-30 Flankers.
The Rafale entered service with the French Navy in 2004 and the French Air Force in 2006. It was proven in combat in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Iraq and Syria. In 2015 and seemingly putting pressure on India, Dassault managed to sell Rafale to Egypt and Qatar for 24 Rafale each. In mid 2016, 152 Rafale were delivered.
Despite having about 100 Dassault Rafale B/Cs in the Air Force inventory, France sees itself forced to keep its older Mirage 2000D operational to keep the ground attack capabilities of the Armée de l’Air at proper levels. It even wants the Deltas to drop below altitudes they were not meant to do when designed – learning from recent missions in the skies of Southwest Asia.
Dassault Aviation received the order – by French defence procurement agency DGA – to renovate 55 Mirage 2000Ds. The modification include weapon system updates, the gun pod and Mica missiles of the aircraft version of the Mirage 2000 that is especially adapted for ground attack.
The Mirage 2000D entered service in 1993 and is the “less terrifying” sister of the Mirage 2000N designed for nuclear strike. In fact, the aircraft are basically the same with the Delta used for long-range strikes with conventional Apache, Scalp and Mica missiles. The first flight of the 2000D was in 1991, roughly 5 years after the 2000N. Lacking an on-board gun, has proven to be a miss during recent combat operations in Afghanistan, Libya (Operations Harmattan / Unified Protector) and Central Africa / Mali (Serval, now Barkhane) and combating the so-called Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria (ISIS / Daesh(.
Mirage 2000D operations
During the operations of the last few years the Mirage 2000Ds often flew with just a pair of 500 lbs GBU-12 laser-guided or GBU-49 gps-/laser-guided bombs and two external fuel tanks. Adding the gun pod means the French Air Force wants to add a more effective close-air support to the Mirage 2000D – something that the aircraft was not designed to do but may work well in low-threat environments. The new modifications are believed to have been mostly “inspired” by the recent deployments against ISIS / Daesh.
The newest French multi-role fighters Dassault Rafale B (two-seat) and C (single-seat) initially were introduced with air-to-air capabilities (F1) only. The latest Dassault Rafale B/C have been delivered in F3 standard (fully multi-role, including nuclear strike) but reportedly not all Rafale F1s have been fully upgraded yet to F3.
Mirage 2000D bases
French Air Force Mirage 2000Ds fly from BA133 Nancy/Ochey (France), BA188 Djibouti/Ambouli (East Africa) plus a pair normally deployed to Niamey/Diori Hamani in Niger in support of Operation Barkhane.
After 42 years, it’s all over for the Dassault Super Etendard in French service. The final flight was scheduled for Tuesday 12 July at Landivisiau airbase, close to the French Atlantic coast. In its career, the sea was familiar territory for the Etendard, as the type was also operated from French Navy aircraft carriers.
The final flight was performed in front of hundreds of spectators at Landivisiau. Only five jets remained in service until the very end, although a significant number of Etendards still participated in operations against co-called Islamic State forces untill recently, flying from a French carrier.
Less known is the fact that France leased some Etendards to Iraq in the Eighties. Iraq then used the aircraft to employ the feared Exocet anti-shipping missiles at Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf. The jets eventually returned to France,
The Dassault Rafale of course replaces the Etendard in French service, with several dozen already in service. The last Etendards will probably find their way to museums in technical schools.
The world’s last Etendards are now to be found in Argentina, which operates just a few aircraft. These jets earned their fame in the 1982 Falklands war.