So I managed to get my hands on the latest edition of Air International. The edition is June 2019. I never buy the magazine for two main reasons - high cost and not much info that one cannot get off the web. This edition blew me away so much, that I bought it.
They have a 24 page special on the Rafale + Part 2 (of a three part series) on the BAe Hawk + the Gripen E. Since this is the Rafale thread, I will talk about the Rafale. I will talk about Gripen E in the MMRCA thread. I am not going to copy everything verbatim, due to copyright laws. So I will be para-phrasing. And I am still reading much of it myself. Some highlights that I have read to date (less than 2 hours since I got the magazine in my hands!) that is worth mentioning.
1) Meteor can switch from one target to another one (during flight), if the second target becomes more threatening that the first one. The RBE2 AESA radar has excellent range and can monitor the Meteor's path at long ranges and can do target reallocation while the missile is in flight. And this was flight tested and is not just some computer simulation.
2) The upcoming F4 variant (qualified in 2022) of the Rafale will have complete interoperability with the F-35. The article refers to larger data link networks and CONTACT software radios, but does not delve into further details. Obviously. Just like in the F3 variant, the F4 variant will have sub-variants like F4.1 (which will includes a new generation, helmet-mounted display). IAF Rafales (F3R variant) come with an Israeli helmet mounted display I believe. F4.1 will have larger touchscreen digital lateral displays to show colour TALIOS (Targeting Long-range Identification Optronic System) imagery.
3) Huge improvements to Spectra in the F4.1 variant. The article talks about threats being identified rapidly in 3D, new jamming waveforms and the updated Spectra suite will have an improved ability to detect hostile emitters operating in very high wavebands.
4) The F4.1 variant will feature an updated IRST system in the Rafale's FSO (Front Sector Optronics) system. This new IRST will also be able to detect stealth targets. My comment - how effective that detection will be and at what level of stealth remains to be seen.
5) Updates to the RBE2 radar are also on the cards as part of the F4.1 variant. It will include a ground-moving target indicator (GMTI) mode. A sharper synthetic aperture radar (SAR) mode will also be available for radar mapping at stand-off ranges, in all weather. There will also be improvements to the IFF (If Friend or Foe) system
6) The M version of the The F4.1 variant will also include a new carrier landing aid and will be similar to the MAGIC CARPET system on the US Navy's F-18E/F carrier fighter. The main point of this upgrade is to increase interoperability with US Navy's carriers. Understandable, considering that the French Navy only has one carrier.
7) The F4.1 variant will have a heavier and more powerful air-to-ground weapon, the HAMMER 1000. It will replace the GBU-24 Paveway III, will have excellent accuracy in all weather and will have a rocket motor. While the power and penetration capability will be the same, the range will be longer. The C variant of the Rafale will be able to carry the HAMMER 1000 in the centreline pylon and as well as the wings. The M variant will carry the system only in the centreline pylon, due to bring-back weight restrictions when landing back on the carrier.
8] The F4.1 variant will feature an updated SCALP cruise missile and an upgraded ASMP-A (nuclear warhead) missile. Details of the latter upgrade is classified because of its nuclear mission.
9) The F4.2 variant is expected to arrive in 2024. The main goal for this upgrade is even greater network-enabled warfare and interconnectivity. A secure military version of a civilian router will be installed on each aircraft and will be cyber-proofed against cyber-attack. The article talks more about this and it is best you get your hands on the magazine and read it yourself. Due to the cost involved, not all Rafales will undergo the F4.2 upgrade. Each aircraft - based on airframe age - will have to be analyzed to see if it is worth upgrading or not. However all aircraft in the fifth production tranche will have the complete F4.2 suite and maybe even more advanced systems.
10) This one will impress you. Future variants of the Rafale will feature a defensive system which consists of a powered payload (i.e. a mini-UAV) which will be launched from one of the chaff's dispensers and will stand in between the threat and the Rafale it is protecting. At the same time, the UAV will track and transmit the SAM radar which is tracking the Rafale, saturate the system and force it to malfunction. I have no clue how it plans to do this, but is what the article says. Initial service is planned for 2025.
11) MICA-NG (New Generation) is coming in 2026 and will complement (and eventually) replace the MICA currently in service. Key point to note, is that the missile have an AESA-type seeker. Dual stage motor, with the second stage being ignited in the terminal phase. Chances of escape will be very minimal.
12) My take-away from the article. The French are VERY, VERY, VERY happy with the Rafale. They have a winning solution in terms of capability. The cost is horrendous though. One lesson to learn is the Rafale was designed with future growth in mind i.e. the French are convinced that Rafale will be fully interoperable with the upcoming Future Air Combat System (their 6th generation combat aircraft) in the 2040s. For an aircraft that was designed in the 1980s, entered service in the 1990s and still be effective in the 2040s is no small feat. Kudos to the French for an excellent design.
13) The next part of the Rafale blitz is the F3R variant. I do not want to sit and provide a point-by-point bullet session here, but if the above impressed you...rest assured the F3R is equally impressive. I would strongly suggest you buy the magazine, if you can. It is US $11.99 as shown on the bottom right cover of the magazine. Some things - that I found impressive in the F3R section - that I will mention is...the Meteor is a heavier missile than the MICA. And as a result, there is a slight increase in fuel consumption. Software updates were done to overcome this and new drag indices were provided by Dassault. Pilots, on the other hand, find the Meteor launch to be a non-event. The French Air Force found the Meteor to be so good, that they are now being forced to re-evaluate their tactics. Lots of time is being spent in simulators to create a new tactical syllabus.
It does not take a genius to figure out why the Indian Air Force chose this bird over all the others in the MMRCA contest. The American birds have the same systems (if not better), but there is the (elephant in the room) problem of dealing with their political shenanigans. The Russians have a long way to go in coming close to their Western counterparts in electronics and sensors. The Gripen NG was not mature enough in the first MMRCA contest. And the Eurofighter is a four-nation consortium mess. The IAF made a wise decision in selecting the Rafale.
The third and final part of the Rafale blitz is about the M variant. That I will do tomorrow.
Then I will do the Gripen E in the MMRCA thread.