French Rafale F3-R achieves Full Operational Capability

Rafale F3R Full Operational Capability
French Navy Rafale M multirole fighter.

On 8 March, 2021, Admiral Pierre Vandier – Chief of Staff of the French Navy, and Air Force General Philippe Lavigne – Chief of Staff of the French Air and Space Force, jointly approved the entry into operational service of the Rafale F3-R fighter jet.

The upgrading of the French combat aircraft capacities ranks high on the list of priorities of the French military expenditure plan (LPM) which provides for a 2.7 billion euro investment in the development of the new versions of the Rafale over the 2019-2025 period.

The French Navy and the French Air and Space Force are now authorised to make operational use of all the capacities that are developed around the F3-R standard, which is already installed in half the French fleet and will eventually be installed on all Rafale aircraft in service.

The decision also applies to the Rafale aircraft of the GAE (carrier air wing) operated from aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle, or those of the French Air and Space Force that are deployed from the forward air base in Jordan within the framework of operation Chammal.

One of the main improvements offered by the F3-R standard is to allow the Rafale to use the MBDA Meteor long-range air-to-air missile which, combined with the AESA RBE2 radar, gives it the ability to engage targets beyond the visual range in all weather conditions. As confirmed by a tweet from the French Air Force, the Rafale carried out the first operational sortie with the type of weapon in early March. In addition to the Metor, the jet will continue to carry the upgraded medium-range air-to-ground missile (ASMPA) as part of airborne nuclear deterrence missions.

The Rafale F3-R is now capable of using the TALIOS high-resolution laser designation pod. It will provide the aircraft with new and more efficient fixed or moving target tracking capacities, as well as an automatic moving target detection capacity and a new human-machine interface that will make it easier to use.

In the new standard, the Rafale F3-R will also offer an enhanced ground attack capacity. It will now be possible to control the munition flight time, the laser illumination and the in-flight weapon settings, including for the terminal laser guidance AASM (modular air-to-ground weapon system).

The aircraft will also feature an automatic ground collision avoidance system (AGCAS) that will make it safer. The AGCAS is an ultimate protection function designed to prevent any risks of ground collision.

From 2022 onwards, new capacities will be added to the Rafale, with the F4 standard. The aircraft will include innovative connectivity solutions offering enhanced networked combat operation capabilities. Enhanced radar sensors and forward optronics will also be added, as well as a helmet-mounted display and new integrated weapons, such as the air-to-air MICA NG missile and the modular 1000-kg air-to-ground weapon.

On March 5, 2021, the French Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) awarded MBDA a € 1.8 billion contract for the supply of 367 MICA NG multi-target short-medium range air-to-air missiles. They will be delivered from 2028 to 2031 and will be used by Rafale and Mirage 2000 fighters.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Sources: French Ministry of the armed forces, MBDA

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