Decoding ‘Rafale’ – the beast India bet upon

Termed as an ‘Ominrole’ fighter, the Rafale is versatile and is designed to excel in all sorts of mission conditions.

Ajith Vijay Kumar

Now that French aviation major Dassault’s fighter jet ‘Rafale’ has emerged victorious in the dog-fight for India’s multi-billion dollar contract for 126 new-generation fighter jets, here’s a closer look at the beast we have bet on.

Undoubtedly, Rafale is one of the most modern fighter aircraft in the world today, having proved its mettle in Afghanistan and Libya.

Termed as an ‘Ominrole’ fighter, the Rafale is versatile and is designed to excel in all sorts of mission conditions as it can engage targets in air, ground or sea with equal agility and precision. India is buying single as well as twin-seat versions of the aircraft.

Fast with Extended Reach

The Rafale boasts of a top speed of Mach 1.8 (1.8 times the speed of sound) with a range of 3,700 km. Its operational altitude ceiling is 50,000 feet.

Rafale’s closet competitor Eurofighter Typoon can achieve better speeds but has considerably less range.

The Workhouse

The Rafale is powered by two Snecma M88-2 engines which generate 50 kN (11,250 lbf) of dry thrust and 75 kN (16,900 lbf) with afterburners. The engines can rev-up to combat mode from idle mode in just three seconds.

Superior Design

Rafale is very stable at supersonic speeds thanks to its ‘Delta Wings’ and closely coupled canards which maximise manoeuvrability, while withstanding 9 g or -3.6 g forces.

Canards increase agility of the aircraft during dog-fights and also reduce landing speed to 213 km/h, thereby allowing for the aircraft’s operation from small runways – an important advantage in times of war.

The superior airframe is made up of composite materials (70%) thereby ensuring higher tensile strength, besides leading to a 40% increase in the max take-off weight to empty weight ratio compared with traditional airframes built of aluminium and titanium.

Although the Rafale doesn’t boast of a full-aspect stealth capability but comes very close owing to its segregated patterns on the trailing edges of the wings and canards.

The Flight Control System (FCS) of the Rafale is an advanced digital “Fly-by-Wire” system which provides for longitudinal stability. In Fly-by-Wire system, there is no mechanical control between the flight control and the pilot control system.

Rafale’s FCS has four back-ups (three digital channels and one separately designed analog channel), with no mechanical back-up to ensure that the common flow remains flawless - Dassault Aviation is considered a master in Fly-by-Wire technology with one million flight hours without a single accident caused by the FCS.

Radar and Sensors

The Rafale is outfitted with the Thales RBE2 passive multi-mode radar. The system is designed to ensure very high levels of situational awareness through the earlier detection and tracking of multiple targets in, or out of, the search domain, bringing the ultimate advantage in air combat.

The Rafale is immune to Radar jamming and comes loaded with 3D capability which helps it zero-down on land as well as targets in sea.

Moreover, the front-sector electro-optical system is completely integrated to ensure operation both in the visible and infrared wavelengths.

More importantly, Rafale comes with an electronic survival system named "SPECTRA", which protects the aircraft against airborne and ground threats.

The Armoury

The Rafale can carry following weapons:

1. MICA air-to-air ‘beyond visual range’ (BVR) missiles

2. AASM modular, rocket-boosted air-to-ground precision guided weapon series with guidance kit

3. SCALP long-range stand-off missile

4. AM39 EXOCET anti-ship missile

5. Laser-guided bombs

6. Unguided bombs

7. NEXTER 30M791 30 mm cannon that fires 2500 rounds/min

8. Upcoming - METEOR long-range air-to-air missile