The recent announcement of France’s €5 billion (approximately $5.5 billion) deal for 42 Rafale F4 standard fighter jets, known as the Tranche 5 order, is a significant development in the French military’s ongoing efforts to modernize its air force. This order is set to bring the total number of Rafales ordered by France to 234, reflecting a consistent investment in this fighter jet model over several decades.
The Rafale, first introduced into service with the French Navy in 2004 and the French Air Force in 2006, has been an integral part of France’s military operations in various conflicts across Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Iraq, and Syria. Its versatility as an “omni-role” aircraft allows it to perform a wide range of missions, including air-to-ground and air-to-sea attacks, reconnaissance, and nuclear deterrence.
In terms of technological advancements, the Rafale F4 standard, under which these new aircraft will be delivered, includes several notable features. These include improved radar capabilities, advanced missile communication systems, extended detection and jamming bandwidths for its self-protection system, and the ability to carry up to three 1,000-kilogram AASM air-to-ground missiles. Additionally, the cockpit will feature enhanced displays and new optronics for detecting stealthy targets, among other upgrades.
Furthermore, these jets are slated for future upgrades to the F5 standard in the 2030s, which may include advanced features such as a loyal wingman UAV, based on the European nEUROn combat drone program. This plan is part of France’s broader strategy to maintain a top-tier fighter capability until the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) becomes operational, which is not expected before 2045 or 2050.
This order is also significant for the French economy, as it is expected to support over 7,000 jobs across more than 400 companies. Dassault Aviation, the prime contractor for the Rafale, has emphasized the importance of this order for the nation’s military-industrial sovereignty and its role in strengthening France’s diplomatic influence and economic power in export trade.
Internationally, the Rafale has seen a growing number of orders, with export orders currently standing at 261 aircraft. Countries like Egypt, Qatar, India, Greece, the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia have added Rafales to their fleets, demonstrating the aircraft’s global appeal and competitiveness in the international fighter jet market.
In summary, France’s latest order of Rafales underlines its commitment to maintaining a state-of-the-art air force while also supporting its domestic aerospace industry. The Rafale’s continuous upgrades and adaptability make it a key asset for France’s defense capabilities and a strong contender in the global defense market.
By Katerina Urbanova, ACE
Photo credit: Dassault Aviation