Rafale: 5 things to know about the flagship of the French defense industry

Released on February 10, 2022 at 12:11Updated February 10. 2022 15:54

A cursed warplane for nearly fifteen years, Rafale is now flying from success to success. The device kicks off 2022 with a new conquest, with Indonesia signing an order for 42 devices. 2021 has already been prosperous with, among other things, a record order of 80 aircraft for the United Arab Emirates.

Born of a desire to find a vehicle to replace the French Mirage 2000 and the British, Italian and German Tornadoes, the Rafale A demonstrator made its maiden flight on 4 July 1986 at Istres in Bouches-du-Rhône. This once “unsaleable” fighter is now a real commercial success, with 446 new aircraft ordered at this stage. Here are five things you need to know about this flagship of the French defense.

1. A “Swiss army knife” plane

From the very beginning of its design, Rafale was designed to be versatile. The bet: a light plane and a “Swiss army knife” will sell more easily internationally. A controversial strategy at the time, but what made the model successful today.

The 10-tonne aircraft is the only aircraft that can carry 1.5 times its weight as weapons and fuel. Rafale can do anything or almost anything: air combat, ground attack, intelligence, landing and take-off from an aircraft carrier… He has all the intelligence on board so he doesn’t have to return from land in between two missions. It is also the vector of French airborne nuclear deterrence.

2. A jewel of 100 million euros

According to a report published by the National Assembly in 2013, the unit cost of a Rafale, excluding armaments, ranges from 90 to 100 million euros. This is slightly more than its main American competitor, the F-35, and much more than the F-35 in the USA. Swedish Gripen.

It is estimated that the production of a device consisting of approximately 300,000 parts, 90% of which is produced in France, employs 7,000 people in France in about two years. About 400 French companies more or less contribute to the production and armament of Rafale. This ranges from industry heavyweights such as Safran, which manufactures the engines and optronics, or Thales, which provides the main electronic equipment, to family-owned SMEs such as Ametra or Realmeca, which manufactures some very specific parts of the aircraft. fight.

3. Reputation as a money trap

Rafale’s first flight took place on July 4, 1986, at the Istres base in the south of France. For a long time it was considered a money pit. And rightly so: 47 billion euros were invested in the Rafale program, according to a report by the Ministry of Defense in 2018. In 2019, the French State injected another 2 billion euros to adapt and secure new terrorist threats. export competitiveness “The Rafale F4 will enter the data age,” said Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces.

Rafale’s recent serial successes have also brought arms exports to record levels. The General Directorate of Armaments says that France’s arms exports will reach at least thirty billion euros for 2021 and 2022. An unprecedented level as a direct result of the “largest in history” arms contract signed in the UAE in early December 2021 for the sale of 80 Rafale fighter jets and 12-gun Caracal helicopters for 17 billion euros.

4. A Club of Seven

If the Rafale is now hailed as the flagship of French industry, it first went through a long period of purgatory. For fifteen years, Rafale’s commercial failure abroad had become almost a bad joke, to the point where the plane seemed destined to fly only under the colors of the French army.

Since 2015, seven foreign countries have placed orders. Egypt, Qatar and India were victorious in 2015 and 2016. After several years of shortage, customers returned in 2021 with the United Arab Emirates, Greece, Egypt and Croatia. As such, Indonesia has become the latest to join the seven foreign country clubs that trust Rafale. In total, it was sold to partner countries rather than the French army: out of 446 new aircraft ordered at this stage, 254 were ordered by foreigners.

5. A “battle-proven” aircraft

Designed in the form of a delta wing with a close “duck” tail (wings at the front of the aircraft), the Rafale is considered “stealth” with a low radar signature thanks to its composite materials. It can fly at Mach 1.8 (2,200 km/h) and take off over 400 meters with a high altitude range of 1,850 km.

It is a so-called “battle-proven” aircraft. In military jargon, this means that it has been tested and used in real combat. He baptized fire in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2011. In 2011, Rafale was mobilized in Libya against the armored arms of Muammar Gaddafi. In 2013, in Mali, Rafale performed the longest mission in Air Force history: a 9 hour 35 minute raid to destroy terrorist targets. It also intervened in Iraq and Syria.

VIDEO – 5 things you need to know about Rafale