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.
Pilatus Aircraft on Wednesday 4 January announced three seperate orders for a total of 21 PC-21 training turboprop aircraft. Seventeen of those are for the French Air Force, while the Royal Jordanian Air Force and QinetiQ, a UK company which operates the Empire Test Pilots’ School (ETPS), take two each. The total order is worth 280 million EUR.
In 2016, the French Air Force opted for the PC-21 to replace older Alpha Jet trainers now in use for training fast jet pilots. On 30 December, the French signed a contact with Babcock Mission Critical Services France (BMCSF) in which subcontractor Pilatus supplies 17 PC-21s for French Air Force training purposes.
QinetiQ is ordering two PC-21s for the famed ETPS at Boscome Down airfield in the UK. The PC-21s with their modified flight instruments will be used to train test pilots and flight test engineers for customers from the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
Royal Jordanian Air Force
The Royal Jordanian Air Force already ordered eight PC-21s earlier, after first eyeing the less advanced PC-9. The Jordanian now have ten PC-21 on orders. First deliveries are set for mid-2017.
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.
Cash-low Argentina is so desperately seeking new fighter jets, that it is looking to put budget priced French fighter jets from the 1970s back in the air.
The defence minister of the Latin-American nation recently paid a visit to France, trying to have Paris agree to an affordable price tag for 12 Dassault-made fighter jets retired by the French Air Force (Armée de l’Air). Buenos Aires is looking for six Mirage F1s plus six Mirage 2000s, or a dozen of either one of the types. A 2013 deal with Spain seems to have hit the sand barrier somewhere.
FAM IA 58 Pucará
To Argentina’s main conservative daily newspaper, La Nacion, Mr. Julio Martinez also said he is hoping that France would like to provide new engines so that the Argentine Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Argentina) is able to bring 20 IA 58 Pucará ground attack and counter-insurgency aircraft back into the sky. Fábrica Militar de Aviones (FAM) produced 110 of these two-engine propeller aircraft between 1976 and 1986, with the type still operational in both Argentine and Uruguay.
Despite its known good operational status and relatively low cost for flight hours and maintenance, Buenos Aires is said not to seek purchase of the US-made Lockheed Martin F-16 that is flown – among others – by neighbouring Chile. An official reason for not buying the F-16 other that “not in the interest of the nation” has not been given. For some time even a wild story circulated that frustrated policy makers in the Argentinian capital were looking for a Russian bomber solution.
The Fuerza Aérea Argentina has currently no fighter jets on strenght, after the 22 remaining McDonnell Douglas A-4AR Fightinghawks and three (O)A-4ARs were grounded at Villa Reynolds Airbase in January 2016 because of the lack of spare parts and other airworthiness issues. Earlier the service decommissioned its Dassault Mirage III and IAI Fingers / AMD M5 Dagger units at Tandil Airbase. That leaves the nation with only 32 IA 58 Pucarás on frontline duty, of which many are down for maintenance.
The about two dozen FMA IA 63 Pampas (35 ordered) are not suited for combat, and the 14 remaining Embraer EMB-312 Tucanos can only be used for limited ground support and counter-insurgency operations.
A knowing smile. During multinational military exercise Frisian Flag at Leeuwarden airbase, that’s all US Air National Guard general Eric Vollmecke has to offer about this week’s surprise deployment of US F-22 Raptors to the UK. This year’s edition of Frisian Flag will have to make do with the Raptor’s predecessor, the F-15C Eagle.
Last year’s participation left US Eagle drivers wanting more. No surprise for the exercise that has earned it’s credits in the world of military air combat. It’s something to be proud of, says airbase commander Denny Traas. And yes, he doesn’t mind playing host to some Raptors at some time in the future.
Whereas terms like coalition, leadership and multinational cooperation are usually the talk of the town during Frisian Flag, this Tuesday it’s Raptors what it’s all about. Sure, Leeuwarden is filled to the brim with advanced warplanes, but none quite so advanced as the F-22s currently in the UK, merely 30 minutes flying time away. Traas: “We are always looking for new aircraft types to bring to Frisian Flag, each with its own capabilities and its own limitations.”
The goal of Frisian Flag is to make participating air crews aware of each aircraft type’s characteristics. That knowledge enables pilots to put together large and mixed formations of military aircraft in an effective way. It turns pilots into leaders and single nations into a partner in today’s multinational military coalitions.
At Leeuwarden, that coalition consists of the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, the US, the UK, Finland and Poland, each sending warplanes to Leeuwarden. Their jet noise shakes the airbase twice each day for two weeks. It’s when the aircraft take off and head to the training areas over the North Sea. The impressive stream of fighter aircraft easily attracts hundreds of aviation enthusiasts – plus as many noise complaints from the neighbouring town.
Once in the training areas, the participants engage threats in the air and on the ground. It offers a welcome change to refresh skills that perhaps are dormant in current live operations over Syria and Iraq, where air-to-air combat is non-exsistent. Base commander Traas: “Frisian Flag fills that gap and results in pilots that are ready for any scenario at any time, with no lead times needed. We train any scenario here at Leeuwarden, not just those modeled after current campaigns.” Given recent events, has a scenario featuring a large scale conflict involving Russia maybe been taking out of the drawer after resting there for two decades? Another knowing but silent smile, from Traas this time.
Both Finland and Poland would benefit from such a scenario. At the same time, neither country has taken part in recent ops over the Middle East, although Poland ponders to do so. “This is one of the most imporant exercises for us each year, along with the Tiger Meet”, says a Polish Air Force F-16 pilot. Despite not having actual combat experience, the Polish Air Force – celebrating ten years of F-16 operations later this year – bring something valuable to Leeuwarden. Traas: “They are the only ones bringing advanced F-16Cs, just like the Finnish are the only ones bringing F-18 Hornets. Again, the more aircraft types, the better.”
As far as US Air National Guard pilot David ‘Moon’ Halasi-Kun is concerned, there’s still not much better than the F-15C Eagle behind him. “It is still the most highly capable and proven air superiority fighter in existence. The F-15 with its active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar brings very unique capabilities, just as the F-22 with its stealthiness brings unique capabilities.” Combined, the two deliver air dominance, says ‘Moon’.
Together with 40 or so other Eagle pilots from the Massachusetts and California Air National Guards, ‘Moon’ for the next six months augments US firepower over Europe. Frisian Flag marks the start of the deployment, which should see the aircraft and crew head further into Europe.
According to Leeuwarden base commander Denny Traas, there is a ‘fair chance’ that Frisian Flag will hosts another non-European air force in the future. Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) observers are closely watching the current exercise. Raptors or Australian F-18 Super Hornets in the future? Well, why not have both? Because yes, the more, the better in the air combat household name that now is Frisian Flag.