In operational news, Libya is of course on the front page. Our fighter is employing its omnirole capabilities in this theater, enabling it to carry out air defense, deep strike, close air support, antiship, reconnaissance and buddy-buddy refueling missions – all from distant land bases or aircraft carriers, and during missions that last up to seven hours.
The Rafale, thanks to its exceptional Spectra self-defense system, has proven its “first strike” capability, just a few hours after receiving the green light from the UN, at a time when Libya still mustered considerable air defense capabilities.
Also worth emphasizing is our aircraft's total interoperability, its availability and dispatch reliability. Not to mention its very-high-precision weapons, whether Scalp missiles, all of which have hit their targets at ranges of several hundred kilometers, or the AASM guided bombs, which set a record by destroying a tank from a range of 57 km.
Both air force and naval versions of the Rafale have also been deployed in Afghanistan since 2007 and the aircraft is fully combat-proven.
At the same time, the French air force has participated in several joint allied exercises. The air force’s skilled crews defended the Rafale's colors in these tough tests, especially in the Brazilian exercise Cruzex, and the ATLC exercise in the United Arab Emirates.
From the technical and industrial standpoint, we continue to work on F3+ upgrades, with very promising results. These upgrades will be integrated in "tranche 4", to be delivered starting in 2013. It is worth noting here that the Rafale will be the first European fighter fitted with an active radar, and this radar will be qualified next year.
The other challenges we face include the integration of the Meteor missile (in 2018, or earlier), and improvements based on operational feedback (cannon, FBW, concrete-busting bombs, etc.).
France has placed firm orders for 180 Rafales to date, and 98 have been delivered. So we still have another 82 to be produced, which guarantees work for the assembly lines until 2018, at the current rate of 11 aircraft/year. Beyond that, French air force requirements indicate that deliveries could continue until 2025.
In bold, a very intriguing sentence, mainly because of the parenthesis, of course !