March 5, 2014 By Yves Pagot Defence Watch Guest Writer
Editor’s note: As part of its ongoing coverage of the CF-18 fighter aircraft replacement, Defence Watch has published a number of articles from authors supporting various aircraft. This week Defence Watch will be running a three-part series that looks at the Rafale filling the role as Canada’s next fighter jet. It is written by Yves Pagot, PhD ParisTech Institute, and a reservist in Armée de l’Air. (i.e. reservist with the French Air Force, he is in a parachute unit). Pagot notes that he does not have any connection to Dassault or the firms involved in the Rafale production.
During the last months, three interesting articles were released on this blog about incoming replacement of Canada’s CF-18. One was touting Gripen as the right choice for Canada, the other questioning the value of the F-35 as a candidate for Canada’s new fighter and the third, waves the F-35 flag. Interestingly, all dismiss Dassault’s Rafale for the wrong reasons:
Firstly they said that Rafale is not compliant with many US weapons and operations; secondly that there is only one operator, and third, they continue to lump the Rafale into the “legacy” or “4th Gen.” arena. I would like to debunk these urban legends.
Rafale already use several several air-to-ground US-made weapons (GBU 12, 24, 49, as well as unguided weapons). More importantly, its weapon bus is fully compliant with NATO Stanag 3910/1553.
Therefore, there is no technical hurdle to integrate any NATO weaponry. Furthermore, during operation “Harmattan” in Libya (Canada called it Operation Mobile – later Operation Enduring Freedom under NATO), French armed forces used the Raytheon wireless system to integrate GBU 49s on their Rafale.
France isn’t involved in the F-35 program, therefore the French armed forces have no plan “B”. Considering the strategic willingness of France as a permanent member of UN Security Council (and the inclusion of the Rafale as a nuclear vector is this scheme), it will be maintained as a high-end aircraft.
Recently, many positive signs emerged indicating a probable quick conclusion to the long and complex MMRCA contract negotiations, in which India will buy 126 (+63 options) Rafales2. Already 1 billion euros has been provisioned in the French budget to implement the next F3R standard incoming in 2018 (contract announced the 10th January), and a fifth production tranche was announced18. All in all, the Rafale’s future looks quite bright.
What are Canadian operational requirements? They are detailed in the Request for Information document issued by the government1.
Although this document is way too long to be fully addressed here, six main missions are cited: Defensive Counter Air (DCA), Offensive Counter Air (OCA), Strategic Attack, Close Air Support, Land Strike, Tactical Support to Maritime operations (TASMO) and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.
Two main strategic situations emerge:
· Defense of sovereignty, be it in Air, -Land or Sea. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll include a strategic “hit back” (deep penetration) strategic capability here.
· Participation in offensive missions within a coalition.
Canada’s specific geography (huge size, remote areas and cold environment) dictates some of the plane characteristics:
· It must have a long range, persistence and reliability;
· In flight refueling is mandatory and buddy-to-buddy refueling desirable;
· Time-to-target considerations above long distances make supercruise capability very important;
· Dual engines for reliability offer resistance to the “goose factor” (ingestion of a bird by an engine) and resilience against combat damages;
· Due to the possible duration of missions, a twin-seater version is preferable.
I’ll use the very same order as was already used about Gripen aircraft at the previous Defence Watch postings3. I will emphasize Rafale advantages as pro and cons of other planes have already been extensively discussed already.
Factor 1 : Cost
Many incorrect price figures have been seen in press (including French press), but recently, the actual fly away official cost was released on the French Senate site4. These prices include VAT. For export, the fly away cost is 57.5M euros ($83M CAD) for the C variant and 61.9 Meuros for the B variant (twin-seater).
The Cost of Flight Per Hour (CFPH) was $19,000 CAD during war operations in Mali and should be lower during peace time5.
Dassault is ready to fully open the technology to Canada, even source codes, letting thus Canada to modify the plane as for their will. They stated that Canada would be able to fully produce the aircraft, and even that some of the Falcon production line could be moved to Canada5. This is an important point for sovereignty as Canada would be fully independent (if it wishes to) from French upgrades and decide by itself for the evolution of its planes.
Factor 2 : Performance:
Rafale is operationally limited to Mach 1.8 (although it reached mach 2+ during qualification tests15) and 55,000 feet which is as good or more than most considered types. Its sunning agility demonstrated during air shows is due to its engines power and its ability to sustain 9g turns, and regularly hit more than 10g during display flights6. Furthermore, a Rafale, fully loaded with 6,000 liters of external fuel in three tanks, four air-to-air mica missiles and two SCALPs (1,300 kg heavy cruise missile) is able to maintain 5.5/6g sustained turn rate7,15.
Interestingly, Rafale was flown by several independent test pilots: Chris Yeo7, David M. North15, Pete Collins8 and Vianney Riller Jr. 9. All of them highly praised its kinematic capabilities and flawless FCS (Flight Control System), but to a common reader, the most convincing proof about the aircraft kinematic capabilities is certainly a recently leaked dogfight picture where one can see a Rafale chasing a F-22 in Basic Flight Manoeuvers10.
Powered by two Snecma M88 engines with 7.5T thrust (with afterburner) each, the Rafale is capable to climb up to 40,000ft. in under two minutes and power the aircraft with an incredible payload (see below). Pete Collins, Flight International test pilot, quoted its acceleration as “brutal,” giving a value of 30 Kts. -2 with one 1250L centerline tank. M88-4E, the last iteration of the engine, is composed of 21 inline replaceable modules for ease of maintenance. The high number of Tactical Air Cycles (4,000) between inspections results in excellent availability. This modularity and ability to do so much front line maintenance without the need for a test bench essentially means there is no concept of Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) with the M88, so engines are basically never sent back for time-consuming depot level overhauls, further increasing availability.
Moreover, Rafale has a unique capability to automatically follow the ground using both numeric maps and SAR radar capabilities, limited at 100 feet, 540 Kts (and 5.5g)8.
Range and Supercruise:
Both are crucial capabilities for Canada considering the large size of Canadian territory. Range for obvious reason, supercruise in order to allow aircraft to reach operational zone quickly without using too much fuel. Rafale has a huge combat radius of 1,850 kms (+ loitering/fighting time) in air superiority configuration33 without refueling. Supercruise was achieved with six MICA air-to-air missiles at 1.4 Mach13.
Rafale, with a 10 ton empty weight, can carry up to 24.5 tons fully-loaded (a world record rate for a fighter), on 14 hardpoints. Among these, five are wet/heavy weight points. This means that it is able to perform a variety of missions during a single flight from sea attack to ground attack, reconnaissance and air defense. Indeed, during the Advanced Tactical Leadership Course (ATLC) exercise in 2009, a “Red” Rafale shot six AASM “HAMMER” (air-to-ground ammunition) and three mica missiles on “Green” aircrafts in less than one minute. Recently Dassault aviation unveiled a configuration under test, with 3x2000L subsonic drop tanks, 6×250 Kg stand-off AASM bombs, 2 Meteor and 4 MICA missiles34. The FCS system is so sophisticated that it will automatically recognize loadings and adapt flight rules and limitations. This is a very important feature as the plane do not need to be reconfigured according to the mission.
15- AWST 7/5/1999 ; Vol 151 issue 1 p48
22- Air&Cosmos 2150, Dec 5th , 2008
25- Air et Cosmos 2355, April 19th , 2013 p. 28
31- http://www.dassault-aviation.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2012/08/FoxThree_Fox15.pdf p.9.
37- AWST Jan 20th, 2014, p29
48- AWST February 17, 2014, p42 « Fast and Furious : Pivot to Pacific propels the need for upgraded and agile electronic-warfare systems »