Rafale deliveries to France restart after four-year hiatus

Dassault Aviation’s production facility in Mérignac delivered a dual-seat Dassault Rafale B (F3-R) to the French Direction Générale de l'Armement (DGA; Directorate General of Armaments) on December 29, marking the first delivery of a new-build example of the multi-role fighter to France in four years.

The latest new-build Rafale B (serial B359) to be delivered to the DGA - ahead of its upcoming transfer to the French Air and Space Force (FASF) - is part of the order for 60 Tranche 4 Rafale fighters, which was placed by the French government in 2009. However, in the years that followed, this order was initially interrupted by budgetary issues and a subsequent focus on export orders that took priority at the Rafale production facility. 

In total, 27 more Tranche 4 Rafales are still due to be delivered to the FASF, along with another 12 aircraft, which were ordered by France in 2021 after Greece purchased 12 second-hand Rafales from the French air arm. The first of these Rafales will be delivered to the FASF in the F3-R standard configuration, but will soon be upgraded to the F4.1 standard after it has been qualified in the early months of this year.

Dassault Rafale B F3R (Serial B359) on the factory floor prior to delivery to the FASF.
Dassault Rafale B F3R (Serial B359) on the factory floor prior to delivery to the FASF. Dassault Aviation

The F4-standard will be split into two segments: F4.1 and F4.2. The first will focus on upgrading the Rafale's radar system, with the RBE2 being fitted to the multi-role fighter, complete with active electronically scanned array (AESA) antennas. The Rafale F4 will also have a 3D localisation mode, allowing pilots to locate targets with extreme precision and also share it with other allied aircraft in the battlespace.

Further developments will include the integration of a new fighter-to-missile datalink, which enables the pilot to change the trajectory of a missile they have just launched, increasing the Rafale's kill probability. It also adds a safety enhancement to the Rafale, as it is possible for another Rafale in the formation to change the direction of the fired missile - most likely the wingman, who would be flying at a stand-off range to the target, allowing the firing pilot to leave the area soon after the missile has been launched. 

Perhaps the largest development to come with the F4.1-standard is the addition of the Thales Scorpion helmet-mounted display (HMD), which will be worn by both the pilot and weapons systems operator (if it is a two-seat B-model Rafale). Other developments include larger digital cockpit displays and the integration of new infrared search-and-track (IRST) sensors.

Meanwhile, the F4.2-standard will have a larger focus on further increasing the connectivity of the Rafale, adding three new systems to help collect and disseminate information in-theatre. The F4.2-standard will also see more improvements to the radar, as well as the platform's Talios targeting pod and the Rafale's overall self-defence/electronic warfare capabilities.

It is expected that the French government will place an order for Tranche 5 Rafales later this year, with developments scheduled to begin in 2026-2027. With these developments, the Rafale should be capable of remaining in operational service until 2060.

Read more about the developments coming to the Dassault Rafale in the free exclusive supplement in the January issue of AirForces Monthly.