Saturday, June 11, 2011

Air and Cosmos insight on the future Rafale

This week issue of Air and Cosmos magazine brings some additional  information regarding the future development path of the Rafale.

First, the radar : the current RBE-2 AESA provides 10° more azimut coverage compared to the PESA version (70° vs 60°) and an increased range of more than 40%
In order to meet the UAE requirement,  the power output will be increased from 9.6 kW to 14 kW by changing the cooling pomp. This should provide an additional 10% range bonus.

About the Engine : The M88-4E which is replacing the M88-2, consists in a new high pressure turbine and compressor to give an impressive 40 to 50% better life span compared to its predecessor. First bench-tested in September 2009, the M88-4E made its first flight on March 22nd 2010. 70 inflight tests were planed for 2010 and the new engine development is now almost complete. A progressive upgrade of all the M88-2 in service in the French Air Force and Navy in planned as the M88-4E production will ramp up

M88-4E on the test bench - ©SAFRAN/SNECMA
The UAE derivative of the M88-4E, called M88-9, will reach 9 tonnes of thrust by increasing the entering airflow from 65 kg/s to 72 kg/s as well as the compression rate from 24.5 to 27. As already said, this engine requires the air intake to be enlarged which is (was ?) a major blocking point in the negotiations with the UAE : Such a structural modification is not cheap and the costs will most probably have to be shared between the two countries.

As far as the weapon system is concerned, Air and Cosmos reveals several new interresting key points :

The first meteor separation trials will be conducted in 2012 to get the missile available for export customers in 2016. (French Air Force entry into service is still planned for 2018)

Regarding IR missiles, the French and British MoD would have started discussions around a common Mica-IR and ASRAAM replacement. It is worth noting that, last year, a French deputy raised the question of the Mica replacement stating that it had to be initiated with no more delays for the missile to remain competitive compared to the last versions of the US made AIM-120.
This new Franco-British IR missile could have 2 meanings :
a- The French are switching for a short range IR missile, cheaper than the Mica-IR and the Mica EM still need to be replaced in the next 10 years.
b- The British are adopting the mica-IR concept of a medium range BVR missile, agile enough to be used as a dogfighting missile to replace the ASRAAM and possibly the AMRAAM.

AASM-IR ©Sagem
The IR version of the AASM smart bomb will get enhanced long range multi-targeting algorithms in order to be more effective against tanks.
At the same time, the Reco-NG pod will receive a new function enabling in flight GPS coordinates extraction of detected targets.
Combined with the above AASM-IR improved long range multi-targeting capability against tanks, one can imagine how deadly a flight of Rafale will be in the near future : The time between detection, decision and strike being very short.

ELGTR training bomb
Regarding the contained effect weapon already discussed here, the French DGA is also considering the Lockheed-Martin scalpel bomb (small contained-area precision energetic load) which is a weaponised version of the  ELGTR training GBU especially developed for low collateral damage strikes in urban zones.

More details about the RCS reduction program, now officialy named DEDIRA (Descreet Rafale Demonstrator), are also revealed by Air and Cosmos : in addition to the INCAS program to improved the SPECTRA suite, the air intake shape could be modified and conformal weapon containers could be used to hide weapons. New RAM technology is also considered. All in all, this looks very much like the "silent Hornet" pack developed by Boeing for the F/A-18E and presented as an operational less expensive alternative to the F-35 full stealth approach.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a solid RDT&E road map for the Rafale.