Captain Romain: Rafale pilot in Afghanistan
Ring , july 5Captain Romain, you have served in Afghanistan with the Rafale. In real operations, what are the qualities of the aircraft? What does it bring to you in situations of stress ?
In real operation, the Rafale pilot enjoys first the interoperability of its data connection (called Link 16), which allows him to easily find an eye contact [visual] on other planes and especially tankers. In an environment where the rule is “seing and avoiding”, it is very important ... The autonomy of our new aircraft make undeniably a contribution: we can stay longer in support of the troops who seek our assistance.
For a infantryman in the heart of Afghanistan, it is not a detail if he knows he can count on us for a long time... This winter, we will be equipped with a laser designation pod [Damocles] which we will enable us to inform from the air the troops on the ground about their environment or to gain autonomy if we had to rescue them. Do the preparation and the execution of a mission with Rafale differ from those with an aircraft like the Mirage 2000?
The preparation and the execution of a mission with a Rafale does not differ, though everything is easier and safer for the Rafale aircrew, thanks to the plane: to have two engines instead of one, it counts, in France and in operation, it is much safer. In such a complex machine in terms of technology, what are the aids to maintenance? What is the availability rate of the aircraft in comparison with the Mirage 2000 also present in Afghanistan?
Maintenance is computerized and is done very quickly and very effectively:In 12 months of presence in Afghanistan, the Rafale has canceled only one mission because of a technical problem, which is really very good in terms of availability... You mention in your book the obsession about fratricide or fatal shooting on population. In a theater of operations like Afghanistan where the Taliban are closely mixed with the population, the firing of weapons seems to be impossible. What are the procedures to be observed by a pilot? And does he have the right to refuse to deliver his weapons if he judges that the situation requires it?
I can not reveal here the rules of engagement that we are required to follow in Afghanistan.
What is certain is on one side our rules of engagement prevent this kind of disaster and on the other side crews are very careful not to commit the irreparable. Your squadron participated Red Flag in 2008, in order to prepare the French air forces in tactical interoperability. Were you present? What did you retain from this exercise?
Our allies were clearly amazed by our new GPS-powered bomb (called AASM for Armement Air-Sol Modulaire ), our autonomy and our total versatility. In a video debriefing, Col. Terrence Fornof clearly stated that the Rafale did not really involve during this exercice but have especially scanned other aircraft emissions.
Any clarification on this?http://canadadefencesovereignty.blog...-critique.html
Red Flag is the absolute dream for a French fighter pilot. To think only one second that a French pilot might have a chance to participate without a total commitment is just proof of ignorance of our frame of mind. Before this exercise , a detachment went on the Luke airbase in Arizona. A SIRPA [French army information and public relations service] video shows some F-16 in bad shape. US pilots were very impressed by the aggressiveness of the Rafale in dogfight. An officer praised the men and the aircraft with an unambiguous term: "outstanding". Beyond political differences between governments, it seems there are very strong ties beween French and US pilots. What do you think ?
Our nations are linked by history: we are the first U.S. allies.
In the end, beyond nationalities, the same passion animates all fighter pilots. And as this job is our favorite talking point, bonds are always promptly formed .After the Dubai Airshow in 2009, an exercise called Advanced Tactical Leadership Course (ATLC) opposed, for the first time, the most modern aircrafts at Al Dhafra. Informations have filtered about the results and they are very surprising about the capabilities of the Rafale. Surprising because the habit is rather to hear or read in the French press unflattering remarks about the French aircraft. How to interpret this phenomenon?
An exercise like ATLC is a litmus test for aircraft, crews and mechanics. Leaning on men who serve, the Rafale has shown in this exercise all its combat effectiveness.
France has a great aeronautical history, it is normal that we produce excellent aircraft and it is clearly the case with the Rafale. Let’s talk now about the results of this exercise. Your squadron commander speaks of " to have put sheets" to the British participants equipped with Eurofighter with a ratio of 7 victories for 1 defeat, with degraded armament on the side of the Rafale. What is called degraded armament and which were the rules of engagement?During an ATLC engagement, 2 Rafale engaged, using their whole system but simulating a weapon that requires taking more risk than normal, 4 Eurofighter. The 2 Rafale killed the 4 Typhoon which used all their normal capacities, without loss.
The rules of engagement were "beyond visual range".
(For the experts, the Rafale had then simulated the use of a semi-active missile while the missile normally used by the Rafale is an active missile, which allows to take cover more quickly after a shot.) What are the differences between the two weapon systems, whether in terms of sensors and situation awareness for the pilot?
All have always dreamed of hundreds of Mirage F1 and Mirage 2000 pilots became reality in the Rafale. It is the result of a long common adventure between Dassault and the French Air Force. The Rafale is the culmination of decades of experience in military aviation.
Finally, the Rafale fighter is a very complete aircraft: The rafale is extremely maneuvering and thus awesome in dogfight. For example, confronted with a Eurofighter, engaged in a within visual range combat with a neck to neck start, we know we need a few dozens of seconds to validate a 'gun kill'.
In BVR air combat (beyond visual range, ie at ranges of several dozens of kilometers), the Rafale system provides synthetic information coming from multiple sensors. This information is therefore more accurate. We can do without 1 or 2 sensors during a whole combat while remaining extremely dangerous for the enemy. This gives us access to new tactics of particular interest.
And with an greater extension than the previous generation aircraft, the Rafale carries twice more air-ground weapons.
The AASM, the new auto-powered GPS French bomb, gives a Rafale the ability to replace several Mirage while being more efficient and taking less risk. The Eurofighter is a plane built for aerial combat and it fares worse than the Rafale, which is a versatile aircraft (air combat, bombing, reconnaissance). And about the aerodynamic capabilities of French plane?
Dassault has a know-how which is at the forefront of what is done worldwide in matter of combat aircraft, thanks to its latest Mirage. This expertise can not be decreed, it is maintained.The most impressive part of the ATLC is the confrontation between members of your squadron and the American F-22 Raptor, described by all observers as a kind of ultimate air weapon, largely in advance on all levels, without rival. Little information filtered about the Franco-American face to face. Why have Americans restricted the battle to “gun pass” only and what were the carrying configuration of the 2 aircrafts?
What is certain is that limiting a close-combat to a combat gun only, it does not really make sense today: even very close to another aircraft and face-to-face, our infrared Mica missiles are able to destroy their target.
So, during various combat gun against the Raptor, the Rafale has had many opportunities to shoot Mica IR, unannounced as not being a part of the framework agreed by the Americans for these engagements. Both planes were smooth. What told you your colleagues about the US fighter? What represents such an advanced aircraft for you? The Rafale is a very successful aircraft which does not need its radar to fight “beyond visual range”.
It's a plane with which everything is easy, probably the masterpiece of Dassault.
The Raptor is a beautiful plane, but the Rafale is clearly an excellent choice for France. An Emirati Mirage 2000-9 piloted by a French did a gun pass on an F-22. This would give reason to Eric Gerard [former Rafale solo display pilot] when he said that thrust vectoring is not useful in combat. You are talking about close air combat as a random exercise, subject to factors independant of the qualities of the aircraft. What do you mean?
In a close combat, one teaches that "sight is life." Indeed, if we see a little too late the other aircraft, the battle may be lost before it started.
To have the "tally" (i see another plane) in time is a random exercise even with the sight of a fighter pilot: aircraft approach each other at about 2000 km/h and the other aircraft may also come from the sun ... This is an example, there are other random factors. Finally, i think that Eric Gerard is right to say that the thrust vectoring is useless: we noted it. You have a unique instrument known as front sector optronics. What is this tool and which benefits can you use in air combat?
This is a camera equipped with a telemetry laser and located on the nose of our plane. So with good weather, we can do completely without the radar.
We can also visually identify an aircraft we have locked at distance ensuring our safety. The Rafale is the first truly omnirôle aircraft. That is to say that he is able to perform all the functions previously assigned to aircraft specialized in a single type of missions in a single flight. Do you have a concrete illustration implementing the panoply of tools available on the Rafale, including electronic warfare?
Every day we train to exploit the versatility of the Rafale.
For example, few times ago, i worked with a young pilot in a scenario for which we had to move to within a territory defended by aircrafts to perform radar mapping, find 12 targets, simulate their bombardment with our AASM and leave. So, within a few minutes, my young team-mate and me have simulated the firing of 5 air-to-air missiles and 12 air-to-ground bombs using all the capabilities of our radar and while jamming.
We have not suffered losses and we have inflicted some kills to our adversaries. Captain Cedric "Rut" Ruet [current Rafale solo display pilot] said sometimes he’s dealing with load factors up to 11 G depending on the configuration of the demonstration. How is a pilot undergoing such accelerations without losing consciousness? Have you been subjected to such strong acceleration during your mission?
The Rafale is the most comfortable aircraft i know. The angle of its seat enables us to deal with G more easily than in a Mirage 2000, for example.
We may need to deal with so many G in the beginning of a dogfight: the first turn often determines the outcome of the battle...
[…]How is going your daily training in Saint-Dizier?
When we start our day, we organize our work according to the flight in which we are planned.
We are dedicated to it, at least two hours before takeoff. This minimum period allows us to be aware of weather conditions, to determine the teaching objectives of the flight, to choose the tactics we will use and to prepare the mission and the pre-flight briefing.
In a complex preparation, the time of preparation can quickly exceed an half-dozen hours.
The flight lasts about one hour. Frequently we train to refuel in flight, mechanically delaying our landing. Those who have read my book will understand that this training is not superfluous...
Sometimes we also train in long flights, exceeding 5 hours.
Once the flight completed, we unload the flight data for each aircraft involved in an analysis system that allows us to draw all the lessons of our mission for all crew members. This phase may take from 1 to 2 hours.
Thus a standard flight monopolizes us on average during 5 hours.
Our training is part of our daily activity. If we are programmed in flight once in a day on average, it is also certain that experienced fighter pilots spend most of their time to train younger.
This is true on all combat aircraft and this is particularly true for the Rafale: This aircraft is a real leap forward in technology and new possibilities that are open to us, lead us to rethink and rewrite our training programs and our tactics. It is a volume close to 2000 pages ,very technical, that have already been rewritten and we strive to ever refine it for more efficiency.
While some may write the other, younger, use their ‘free’ time to learn this documentation.
[…]To finish, what’s up at 15,000 meters and Mach 1.6?
It is a moment of great calm and a rare experience.
At this altitude, it is not crowded and the air traffic controller did not need to multiply radio messages to coordinate our flight with other aircraft in the vicinity: all our natural environment becomes quieter.
The less dense air does not allow the aircraft to move with the same vivacity that at low-level: all its movements are slower.
At this height, flying at Mach 1.60 is not really seen, but is measured with pleasure. For example, i had the opportunity to fly over the city of Dijon, six minutes after leaving the city center of Lyon...
So while you move clearly faster, everything seems slow.
But what i like most at this altitude is that you can see, by looking 360 degrees at the horizon, it has a slightly round form ... Then of course, i would like to go a little higher.
Captain Romain is the author of Rafale in Afghanistan, a war diary describing his experience in combat against the Taliban.