INDIALATEST DEFENCE NEWS

With 5 New Stealth Features, RAFALE F4 will be a Fighter to Beat in MMRCA 2.0

⏩ INTRODUCTION :

Indian Air Force is poised to get 110 new aircrafts under MMRCA 2.0. No matter the technical competence of each aircraft, the previous Rafale deal controversy or India’s tilt towards USA in view of emerging Indo-US alliance, the public opinion is still overwhelmingly in favour of new Rafales. And why it shouldn’t be ? Rafale is such an excellent aircraft and its acquisition gives IAF a definite edge over its adversaries. However proponents of American F-35 or Russian PAKFA point out a lacuna in IAF’s procurement plan. The force is still left without a fifth-generation stealth fighter. But if the just leaked out Rafale F4 Project details are to be believed, IAF can easily make up for this shortcoming by just acquiring this new version of Rafale. Let us see how.

⏩ PROGRAMME OUTLINE :

Dassault has received a commission from the Armée de L’air or Air Army ( French Air Force) and Marine Nationale for an upgraded version of the Dassault Rafale. With plans underway for the commissioning of a new carrier, an expansion of the Marine Nationale’s Rafale fleet is necessary. The Marine Nationale possesses only 42 Rafales, which is fine for the 34-plane air-wing of the Charles de Gaulle but totally insufficient to equip the complement of the planned Super Carrier Cardinal Richelieu. Since a new wing of Rafales is to be commissioned anyway, it has been deemed a good opportunity to modify the Rafale with Dassault’s planned stealth improvements.

⏩ STEALTH :

The Rafale has been designed with reduced observability in mind. It gives out a Radar Cross Section of only 0.05 metre square when the Spectra suite is on, which is equal to a ‘sparrow’. But still Rafale is by no means a stealth aircraft. That being said, its observability could stand to be further reduced without incurring too much cost. Four key features present themselves as major offenders in this regard :
1. The single vertical tailfin,
2. The fixed external fuel probe,
3. The externally mounted targetting pods required for ground attack
4. The basic, circular engine nozzles

Each of these issues will be addressed in Rafale F4 :
1. The empennage of Rafale will be redesigned with twin canted tailfins, with the large central SPECTRA radar warning receiver atop the tail being replaced by twin modules atop either of the two new fins. The extra available pod space this entails will allow integration of several elements of Thales/Safran VGA peripheral awareness system. Ideally this section of the airframe will be easily replaced, a matter of replacing the necessary external skin sections and bolting the new wing roots into the support structure.
2. The external fuel probe will be replaced with a retractable model that folds into the outer hull of the nosecone.
3. The Damocles targeting pod is inherently non-stealthy but since it is being replaced by the in-development TALIOS pod anyway, this is easily resolved. TALIOS and AREOS will be designed with stealth-shaped external casings.
4. The final issue is the exhaust nozzles. Replacing these with a serrated nozzle system is relatively easily done.
5. Additionally, stealth coatings developed for the Merlin project will be applied. Incidentally, Merlin is a French-German satellite (Methane Remote Sensing Lidar Mission) that will go into Earth orbit in 2021 to measure concentrations of atmospheric methane with unprecedented precision.

⏩ AVIONICS :

All aircraft will be equipped with upgraded short-range datalink systems for integration with Dassault Systems’ planned drone control software. The Rafale B will have further modifications for this purpose, with software being designed to allow the weapons system officer to control nearby drone aircraft. Additionally, the sensor fusion systems developed for the Merlin will be applied and integrated with the VGA and OSF optical/infrared tracking systems and any attached targeting modules, allowing the pilot greatly enhanced situational awareness.

⏩ DASSAULT RAFALE F4C

Statistic                   Specification

Crew                             1

Length                          15.27m

Wingspan                     10.8m

Height                           5.14m

Wing Area                    45.7m square

Empty weight              9900kg

Full weight                  15000kg

Max weight                 24500kg

Power Plant               2xSnecma-M88-3
(50kN cruise,
75kN afterburner)

Max speed Mach         1.8

Cruising speed Mach  1.5

Range                         3700km (3 drop tanks)

Combat radius            1800km

Service ceiling            15.2km

Rate of Climb             305m/s

Integral Weapons      1xGIAT 30M791

Internal Armament    None

External Armament   14 Hardpoints

Cost                             $77 million

⏩ DASSAULT RAFALE F4B

Statistic                    Specification

Crew                              2

Length                          15.27m

Wingspan                     10.8m

Height                           5.14m

Wing Area                    45.7m square

Empty weight              10450kg

Full weight                   15000kg

Max weight                  24500kg

Power Plant                2xSnecma-M88-3
(50kN cruise,
75kN afterburner)

Max speed Mach         1.8

Cruising speed Mach  1.5

Range                       3700km (3 drop tanks)

Combat radius             1800km

Service ceiling              15.2km

Rate of Climb               305m/s

Integral Weapons         1xGIAT 30M791

Internal Armament       None

External Armament      14 Hardpoints

Cost                                $84 million

⏩ DASSAULT RAFALE F4M

Statistic.                    Specification

Crew.                             1

Length                          15.27 m

Wingspan                     10.8 m

Height                           5.14 m

Wing Area                    45.7m square

Empty weight              10,750 kg

Full weight                   15000 kg

Max weight                  24500 kg

Power Plant                2xSnecma-M88-3
(50kN cruise,
75kN afterburner)

Max speed                   Mach 1.8

Cruising speed Mach   1.5

Range                       3700km (3 drop tanks)

Combat radius            1800km

Service ceiling             15.2km

Rate of Climb               305m/s

Integral Weapons       1xGIAT 30M791

Internal Armament     None

External Armament    13 Hardpoints

Cost                              $89 million

⏩ RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT :

Research and development of the Rafale F4 programme is expected to cost 1.3 billion dollars over the next 3 years.

⏩ CONCLUSION :

It looks like with huge order from India in sight and French Air Force as well as Navy’s own needs, France has paced up the development of Rafale F4 standard and advanced the schedule. Otherwise earlier tentative schedule for F4 was suggested to be only after 2025. On the other hand, Indian Air Force is also under pressure to look for a fifth-gen alternative after Indo-Russian PAKFA was scuttled. Given that no ice has been broken with USA on F-35 so far, its early availability also looks highly unlikely. Indigenous AMCA programme is expected to be around only by mid-thirties. Meanwhile, France has long been a trusted defence supplier to India. So it will be a decision of tremendous prudence and foresight if Indian Government wards off all pressure domestic and foreign, and opts for Rafale F4 as IAF’s next medium multi-role combat aircraft.

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