The Dassault Rafale is a French twin-engine, canard delta-wing, multirole fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation. With a high level of agility, the Rafale is intended to perform air supremacy, interdiction, reconnaissance, and nuclear strike missions.
In the late 1970s, the French Air Force and Navy were seeking to replace and consolidate their current fleets of aircraft. In order to reduce development costs and boost prospective sales, France entered into an arrangement with four other European nations to produce an agile multi-purpose fighter. Subsequent disagreements over workshare and differing requirements led to France’s pursuit of its own development program. Dassault built a technology demonstrator which first flew in July 1986 as part of an eight-year flight-test programme, paving the way for the go-ahead of the project. The Rafale is distinct from other European fighters of its era in that it is almost entirely built by one country, involving most of France’s major defence contractors, such as Dassault, Thales and Safran.
Many of the aircraft’s avionics and features, such as direct voice input, the RBE2 AA active electronically scanned array radar and the Optronique secteur frontal infra-red search and track sensor, were domestically developed and produced for the Rafale programme. Originally scheduled to enter service in 1996, the Rafale suffered significant delays due to post-Cold War budget cuts and changes in priorities. The aircraft is available in three variants: Rafale C single-seat land-based version, Rafale C twin-seat land-based version, and Rafale M single-seat carrier-based version.
Introduced in 2001, the Rafale is being produced for both the French Air Force and for carrier-based operations in the French Navy. While the Rafale has been marketed for export to several countries, it has only been selected for purchase by the Indian Air Force. The Rafale has been used in combat over Afghanistan, Libya, Mali and Iraq; features such as the SPECTRA integrated defensive-aids system have been crucial advantages in Libya. Several upgrades to the weapons and avionics of the Rafale are planned to be introduced by 2018.