Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Libya, Rafale in combat "for War Dummies"

This is a must read article written  by Giovanni de Briganti for Defense Aerospace
-Reproduced here for the record-

RAFALETOWN, Corsica --- French air force Rafale combat aircraft deployed here as part of the UN-sanctioned Libyan No-Fly Zone are for the first time making full use of the aircraft’s “omnirole” capabilities, which allow a single aircraft to carry out the full gamut of missions during a single sortie.

Pilots of the eight-ship Rafale detachment based here at Solenzara air base in Corsica, and provisionally dubbed “Rafaletown,” routinely take off with four MICA air-to-air missiles, three or six AASM Hammer precision-guided bombs, a Thales Damoclès laser targeting pod or a Reco NG reconnaissance pod and two drop tanks. They can be tasked or re-tasked in flight, and routinely are, to fly combat air patrol, precision strike or reconnaissance missions during the same six- or seven-hour sortie.

The AASM, or Armement Air-Sol Modulaire which carries the NATO designation SBU-38, is a precision-guided bomb developed by Sagem, and exists in two versions, with inertial/GPS or inertial/GPS/infrared imaging guidance. A laser-guided version is being developed.

“Rafale was involved in Libya from Day One, and we fly several missions during a single sortie,” says detachment commander Lt. Col. Pierre G., stressing that “Omnirole Rafale” is not simply an advertising slogan but an accurate description of the aircraft’s very real capabilities. “Over Libya, the Rafale flies all kinds of missions, carrying out strike assignments and reconnaissance with the Reco NG pod while conducting our main mission, which is combat air patrol. Pierre G. and other Rafale pilots spoke to reporters during a two-day tour organized by the French defense procurement agency, DGA, and the companies involved in the Rafale program. Because of operational security, pilots are referred to by their first name, or not identified at all.

Pilots say the Rafale’s networked sensors and systems make their job much easier and much more effective than with previous-generation fighters. “Two Rafales carry as much ordnance as two Mirage 2000-5 and four Mirage 2000D combined,” notes Pierre G., adding that their sensor capabilities “are much greater even than that.”

The Rafales work in a truly networked environment, and are fed targeting and other tactical data from a wide range of coalition sources through the Link 16 datalink. Incoming data is combined with that collected by the aircraft’s own sensors – Thales SPECTRA self-protection suite, OSF electro-optics, RBE-2 radar and even the infra-red guided version of MBDA’s MICA air-to-air missile which, as it scans continuously, can provide IR imagery to the central data processing system. “MICA is not just a missile, it’s an extra sensor as well,” says Pierre G., and its detection range is much longer than generally supposed.

Data from all on-board and off-board sensors are combined into a single tactical picture presented to the pilot on the cockpit’s central color display or, if desired, on one of the lateral displays. The pilot can select the data he wants, combine it with other data, and pass it on to his wingman or to other allied aircraft, ships or ground troops through the Link 16, without speaking a single word on the radio and, if not using the radar, without any transmission whatsoever. Link 16 can also be used to de-conflict assignments with other aircraft without using radios.

To illustrate the Rafale’s networking capabilities, one pilot described how the aircraft can receive target coordinates from an AWACS or another aircraft via Link 16. To accept the assignment, the pilot pushes a button, and the coordinates are automatically programmed into the AASM guided bombs, with no further action by the pilot who, once in range (up to 30 nautical miles), again pushes a single button to launch all three – or all six – AASMs to their individual targets. “We can fire the AASM against targets abeam or behind us, and can hit up to six in a single pass,” the pilot continues.

At Solenzara, reporters were shown video footage taken during a ground attack mission in Libya, in which three tanks said to be firing against civilian targets were destroyed by simultaneous direct hits by AASM.

To avoid overloading the pilot, the aircraft’s central computer prioritizes targets according to the threat they represent, and there are also modes to de-clutter the radar scope. The pilot can also decide to concentrate on a given aspect of the mission, and come back to others aspects.

 The flight line at Solenzara, showing a mix of single-seat and two-seat Rafale fighters. The base has been dubbed “Rafaletown” by French pilots. (French AF photo)

In a similar vein, the system analyzes and combines tactical information received from all sensors; for example, “if you receive a track from an AWACS, from your SPECTRA self-protection suite, or from your ‘wingee’ at the same time, the system will analyze all the inputs and show you only one track.”

Another pilot simply says that “the Rafale’s man-machine interface is so good it’s like ‘war for dummies’.”

Rafale pilots are also very complementary about their SPECTRA self-protection suite, which is of critical importance as France does not have any aircraft dedicated to the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) missions. “SPECTRA allowed us to begin operations over Libya the very same day the political decision was taken, and to fly deep into Libyan territory without an escort,” says one pilot, adding that “the Americans also flew in, but only after they had fired 119 Tomahawks to take out Libyan air defenses.”

Rafale’s capabilities are changing the way the French air force operates. Previously, distinct pilot “communities” developed around each of the main missions flown – air defense, ground attack, strike, etc. – and lived more or less independently of each other. With the Rafale, however, this phenomenon is fading away since any unit, any aircraft and any pilot fly air-defense, strike or ground attack missions, as required. Specialization will disappear, several officers said, to be replaced by fewer but far more flexible aircraft and pilots.

“The idea that a single aircraft can be re-tasked in flight from reconnaissance to strike to interception during the same sortie is truly revolutionary, and we’re just now beginning to understand all that this implies,” says one officer.

This flexibility also translates into a major advantage for operational management, because any available Rafale can be tasked for any mission, without needing, as in the past, for a given aircraft-weapon combination to be available.

Missions from Solenzara are flown in two waves each day, one in daytime and the other at night, and the Rafales fire GPS-guided AASMs or laser-guided GBU-12 bombs on almost every mission. One Rafale also fired two Scalp cruise missiles, but so far the detachment has not fired the 30mm cannon as the minimum altitude mandated by the air staff is too high to use guns to good effect. Transit to Libya is flown at 50% power setting, which translates to Mach 0.9 cruise speed even with six AASM bombs and two large underwing drop tanks.

The detachment deployed at Solenzara comprises eight Rafales – a mix of single- and two-seaters – and three Mirage F-1CR dedicated reconnaissance aircraft, with 20 aircrew and supported by about 100 ground staff, 70% of them for Rafale, and 30 people to operate the intelligence detachment. Since Operation Harmattan (the French designation for enforcing the Libya No-Fly Zone) began on March 19, the detachment has flown 2,200 flight hours with over 1,500 in-flight refuellings, initially from their main operating base at Saint Dizier, in north-eastern France, and subsequently from Solenzara.

Aircraft turn-around, even with live weapons on board, requires only 90 minutes and an engine change requires one hour, although none have been changed during current operations.

Because of the time wasted flying from Solenzara to Libya, France is negotiating to transfer its Rafale detachment to Sigonella air base, in Sicily, which is much closer to the combat area. For the same reason, French air force Mirages have already been redeployed to Crete.

Maintenance requirements of the Rafale are about 25% lower than for the Mirage 2000, and there is no scheduled or preventive maintenance; maintenance depends only on the type of mission flown, and on the condition of components. Pilots at Solenzara say that, in just over two months of operations, no missions were aborted because of aircraft unavailability, and detachment commander Lt. Col. Pierre G. says that the availability rate is close to 100%.

Pilots interviewed for this story clearly love their aircraft. In addition to the electronics, they praise the comfort of their seat and its semi-reclined position, the effectiveness of the cockpit air conditioning (“I’ve never seen any condensation,” says one pilot) and the ease of adapting to the side-stick controller which, on Rafale, replaces the conventional central control stick. These are not necessarily major aspects, notes one pilot, “but after a few days of high-intensity combat, a Rafale pilot will be in much better shape than one flying another aircraft.”

Rafale pictures of the days, Rochefort Airshow




©spotting zone


Monday, May 30, 2011

BBC reportage on the CdG

Nice footage from the BBC  whose a reporter was on the French Aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle :

Rafale picture of the day, ASMP-A spotted !

 Quite a rare sight : A Rafale from the CEAM squadron with an ASMP-A nuclear missile.


The ASMP-A (Air Sol Moyenne Porte Ameliore) is a stand off ramjet supersonic nuclear missile. It is equiped with a 300 kt warhead and its range reaches 500 km when launched at high altitude. It cruises at mach 2 at low altitude (mach 3 at high altidude) which makes it very difficult to intercept.

Its developpement started in 1997 and the missile entered operational service on French Air Force Mirage 2000 N in 2009 and 1 year later on the Rafale F3 (both in the French Air Force and Navy).
 Source : http://pics-aeronef.discutfree.com/

2 configs added to the Rafale weapon load page

1- Pinpoint strike : 3 x 2000 lbs GBU-24

2- Nuclear strike : 1 x ASMP-A nuclear missile (range 500 km / 300 kt warhead)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Libya, May 19-26th air operation stats

May 19-26th  missions log - (>200 sorties - rate>30 sorties/day - 20% of  NATO sorties - 30% of NATO ground attack sorties) :

  • CAS and interdiction (=) : 113 flights (Rafale, Mirage 2000D, Mirage 2000N,  Mirage F1 CR, Super Etendard)
  • Reconnaissance (-9%) : 40 flights (Rafale, Mirage F1 CR)
  • Inflight refueling (-4.5%) : 21 flights (C-135, Rafale M, Super Etendard)
  • AWACS (+57%) : 11 flights (E-3F, E-2C)
  • Air Defense (+59%) : 27 flights (Mirage 2000-5F)
Libyan Navy frigate Al Ghardabia hit by NATO fighters
About 30 targets destroyed :

  • Several ships including a "koni" frigate and Combattante patrol boat (Tripoli, Syrte)
  • about 6 military vehicules including 1 MBT (Tripoli, Brega)
  • 1 radar station west of Brega
  • about 20 ammunition depots (Tripoli, Zintan, Syrte, Misratah) 

Source : http://www.defense.gouv.fr/

Also note that 3 Rafale and 1 Mirage F1 have left the Solenzara Air Base while 2 additional Mirage 2000N have arrived at La Suda.

A very nice video of a Canadian tanker refueling British Tornado and French Mirage F-1 and Rafale (recce moadoad) can be seen here

Finaly, Thursday, May 26th, the French authorities have held a press conference about the Rafale air operations since March 19th. In 2 months  the multirole fighter has performed some 2200 flight hours and more than 100 shots on Libyan ground forces. Most notably, several  AASM multitarget salvos have been demonstrated as well as the oustanting accuracy of the Reco-NG pod.
According to defense journalist JM Tangy, a real time demonstration of the AESA RBE-2 was also showcased at the Casaux Air Base.

Source : http://lemamouth.blogspot.com/

New weapons for the Rafale

The blog "Le Mamouth" is reporting that the DGA (French defense procurement agency) and CEAM (French air force experimentation and trials center) is currently finishing the integration of the 2000 lb class GBU-24 laser guided bomb on the Rafale. The prefered hardpoints for this GBU are the center line fuselage and mid wing points. This massive bomb, already operational on Mirage 2000 D/N, will be compleated at a later stage by the 2000 lb versions of the AASM.

Edit : a heavy GBU-24 config has been added to the weapon load page.

As far as anti ship warfare is concerned, the first batch of AM-39 block II Exocet missiles will be delivered next month to the Rafale units. The missile is compatible with any Rafale F3, from the French Navy or Air Force.

Also in the pipeline are the "limited effect weapons" intended to be used close to urban areas. Several options are studied by the DGA :
  • GBU with inert bodies which are already in use in Libya. This solution is seen as too heavy and costly though.
  • Brimstones missile made by MBDA UK. This small laser guided missile carried in large number by RAF Tornados, has proved to be very effective in Libya. the DGA is seriously considered its integration on the Rafale (2 weeks ago, a French delegation visited MDBA UK to discuss the matter)
  • Laser guided rockets that are being developped by Thales and would be carried on the Rafale 3rd wing hardpoint.
  • LGTR (Laser Guided Training Round) are also studied for this task.
Last eye candy for today is the "Meteor" Air-defense loadout with mica on the 3rd wing hardpoint. This is a long expected configuration and the first one to use the 8 wing pylons : 
  • 4 meteor
  • 2 mica EM
  • 2 Mica IR
  • 3 RPL701 - 1250L tanks
This picture was taken 2 years ago at the LeBourget 2009 airshow.

MMRCA, French Defense Minister visits India

May 27th, Livefist blog reports the following statements about the MMRCA made by French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet, during a press conference in New Delhi

"We have full confidence in Indian procedures. The government wants full transparency, and Dassault has been completely transparent." 

In an expected swipe at the Eurofighter consortium, the French Defence Minister said, "We are one country, and we have enjoyed a relationship since 1953. Dealing with one country you know well, I imagine, is better than dealing with four countries. It is just simpler."
Also, "There will be no restrictions on the use of our equipment. That is an assurance." He provided no further details on the Rafale offer.

On the IAF Mirage-2000 upgrade, Longuet said, "We are in the final stages of the upgrade agreement. It is up to the Indian political establishment to take a decision. We are confident that it will happen soon."

As usual the the French remain almost silent about this contest.

Meanwhile, the Financial Express reveals that the commercial bids could be opened next week and that the Rafale would be the prefered choice of IAF officials:

[...]The opening of the commercial bids would lift the suspense on the lowest bidder, paving the way for commercial negotiations. Defence officials from France and Germany are currently touring India to promote their offerings, leaving no stone unturned to swing the deal in their favour.
Indian Air Force (IAF) officials are believed to be rooting for the Rafale, which could come across as the lowest bidder owing to its low lifecycle cost. However, Eurofighter’s offer to set up a production line in India could give it some leverage.[...]

If the Rafale is indeed the lowest bidder, this will however not be over for the Eurofighter as the whole range of costs, transfer of technologies and offsets will have to be assessed by the Indian authorities. A process that could take quite a long time.

Finaly, The Indu emphasizes on the independence garanties coming with the French offer :

[...]The French military equipment comes with three points — guarantee of availability of spares, no restriction on the use of equipment and offer to upgrade equipment as technology evolves.[...]  

also read the AP report 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

MMRCA, JF-17 bought by Pakistan could speed up the Indian deal

French Defense Minister G. Longuet (second on the right)
Aviation week reports that a quick order of JF-17 fighter jets by Pakistan could be the cause of the soudain hurry surrounding the MMRCA deal.

"India wants to expedite the deal in part because Pakistan is expecting a speedy delivery of 50 JF-17 aircraft, which originally were to be spread out over two years, according to defense ministry officials."

Accordind to Aviation weeks, the offset negociations would have already been initiated

“The negotiation for crucial commercial terms will begin next month,” says Michael Christie, senior vice president at BAE Systems India. BAE is part of the Eurofighter consortium, along with Alenia Aeronautica and EADS. 

In the meatime, French Defense Minister Gerard longuet will meet his Indian counterpart, Mr. AK Antony, Thursday 26th. For sure the Rafale proposal and the Mirage 2000 upgrade will be at the heart of the debates. So everything seems to converge toward a quick decision on which fighter (Rafale or Typhoon) will be chosen.. even if the final deal is not expected to be signed before the end of 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

MMRCA, India to sign the contract by december ?

The Times of India reports that India is willing to conclude the MMRCA deal before the end of the year.

"We should be ready to open the Typhoon and Rafale commercial bids in July,'' said the source. Thereafter, it will take another month to determine the lowest bidder (L-1) because of "huge mathematical and data verification'' of the lifecycle costs of operating the jets over a 40-year period. Commercial negotiations with the L-1 vendor will then begin before the final contract is ready for signing by December. 

According to the ToI source, the following  delivery schedule is expected :
  • December 2014 : first deliveries start with aircrafts built by EADS or Dassault (18 airframes)
  • December 2015 : First squadron formed
  • December 2016 : First aircrafts built by HAL (108 airframes) with an initial production rate of 6 jets per year ramping up to 20 when the production line will run at full capacity
Even if this calendar might appear quite optimistic, it nonetheless shows that the MMRCA selection process is accellerating. After all, the IAF shortsilt was revealed right on time (end of April) and the contract to upgrade the Mirage 2000 fleet also seems to be on track after years of negociations.

Also worth noting is the fact that both Typhoon and Rafale demonstrated AESA radar were judged mature enough  to meet the IAF requirements even if none of the 2 European jets have such an operational radar today :

But what about the crucial AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar, which is operational only on American fighters at present? MoD said the ASQRs did "not require a flying AESA radar''. Instead, vendors had to demonstrate "a baseline radar model in flight or on a test-bed, the complete working model in a lab and how it would be integrated'' on the Indian MMRCA. "Five fighters, including Rafale and Typhoon, met this requirement,'' said the source.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Libya, May 13-20th air operation stats

May 13-20th  missions log - (>200 sorties - rate>30 sorties/day - 20% of  NATO sorties - 30% of NATO ground attack sorties) :

  • CAS and interdiction (+2%) : 112 flights (Rafale, Mirage 2000D, Mirage 2000N,  Mirage F1 CR, Super Etendard)
  • Reconnaissance (-21%) : 44 flights (Rafale, Mirage F1 CR)
  • Inflight refueling (-24%) : 22 flights (C-135, Rafale M, Super Etendard)
  • AWACS (-42%) : 7 flights (E-3F, E-2C)
  • Air Defense (-15%) : 17 flights (Mirage 2000-5F)

About 30 targets destroyed :

  • 6 artilery guns including 4 missile launchers (Misratah, Zlitan, Syrte)
  • about 15 military vehicules including a number of MBT (Adjabya, Brega)
  • 2 command centers (Syrte, Tripoli)
  • about 12 ammunition depots (Tripoli, Zintan, Syrte, Misratah)

Source : http://www.defense.gouv.fr/

In the press, Latinaero articles about Rafale and AASM Engagement over Libya

Latinaero has released a preview of its first issue which should be available next June. It can be downloaded directly on their web site (or here as a backup). The first part of an article about the Rafale at war in Libya (written by defrense journalist Jean-Michel Guhl), can be read in this issue (mainly about AASM bombs)

Here are very interesting extracts about the AASM capabilities (for the record) :

[...] The greatest operational value of the AASM is that it is a true stand-off weapon, which means it can be fired safely from outside the range of existing
enemy short and medium range air defence systems, whether at high or low
. According to Lieutenant General Patrick Chareix, of the French Air Force
CDAOA staff, this fact was proven on several occasions during the initial phase of the interdiction campaign over Libya where the Rafales operated without the need of any dedicated SEAD asset —and
to the big surprise of the USAF theatre commander on one specific action against a Libyan SA-3 “Goa” SAM site
in March 2011!.

Its solid rocket propulsion system gives the AASM a range of over 50 km when fired from high altitude, and
over 15 km for low-altitude firing. In the latter case, the AASM can also climb over its release point to avoid difficult terrain, while providing a near vertical terminal trajectory for better final precision.

These characteristics are awsome, as most of the time, the AASM strikes come as a full surprise for an observer on the ground, for the simple reason that the launch aircraft is unseen and unheard… even more when the launch aircraft is a Rafale, thanks to its stealthy characteristics.

AASM launch domain ©Latinaero
Quite a surprising and positive point is the fact that the AASM can be fired off-axis in relation to the aircraft’s flight path, thus optimizing its extended range and enabling it to hit distant targets right behind the aircraft —something totally impossible for a conventional laser-guided bomb.
 From the operational standpoint, this enables the aircraft to immediately engage its target, without having to manoeuvre to place the launching aircraft in position, as would be required for other existing laser or GPS-guided tactical weapons.

A very valuable tactical advantage is also that the AASM allows a single aircraft to engage up to six targets simultaneously ! For example one Rafale fighter fitted with two triple underwing Rafaut hard-points —as was the case during “Opération Harmattan” over Libya— can loiter and attack successively or in a single action up to six targets of different nature located in opposing directions. For that, the Rafale pilot (or navigator in the two-seat models) can use target coordinates previously programmed on the ground during mission briefing, or even in flight at the last minute in the case of time-sensitive targets ! This in-flight reprogramming capability relies on new coordinates either sourced through the Rafale’s tactical data link terminal (NATO L-16) or obtained via the laser rangemeter of a Damoclès targeting pod.

So, Jean-Michel Guhl confirms, once and for all, in this article that the AASM can be launched at a target behind the aircraft, and so, apparently even at low altitude (see the AASM lauch domain drawing above). Moreover, the Rafale/AASM combo can perform a 180° off boresight attack in a multarget scenario which is quite amazing

Also worth reading, a handfull of  very instructive articles about the Rafale engagements over Libya :
Hammer does it again
French Air Force Rafales continue to hammer down Kadhafi’s forces piecemeal
French Rafales strike deep into Libya
Target Libya ! French fighters now leading the way

Eyecandy from the links above ;)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

UAE, Rafale deal very close to be signed

May 20th, 05:00 PM, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has met Abou Dabi crown Prince Mohamed Bin ZAYED AL NAHYAN. Rumors tell that the final agreement about the purchase by the UAE of 60 Rafale fighter jets could have been reached during the meeting. If true, the contract could be inked in a couple of weeks, possibly during the opening of the 49th Paris air show which will start on June 20th.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thursday, May 19, 2011

CdG, 10 years of active service !

Today is the 10th anniversary of the entry into active service of the first French Nuclear Aircraft carrier R91 Charles de Gaulle. Incidentally it is also the 10th Anniversary of the 12F squadron on Rafale M...

Despite several youth issues (damned propellers !), the CdG log during the last 10 years is quite impressive :
  • 3 years and 6 months of non stop sailing
  • 340,000 nm (16 times around the world)
  • 25,000 carrier launch/landings
  • Operated by some12000 sailors.

Main events :

2001/05-06 : Trident d'or exercise with the Italian Navy
2001/12 - 2002/06 : Heracles I (1st Indian Ocean deployment in support of Enduring Freedom)
2002/03/05 : First GBU fired in Afghanistan
2002/05 : Red shark I exercise with the Saudi Navy/Air Force
2002/10/22 : First Super Etendard crash (A exchange German pilot loose control of his aircraft after launch
2002/10/30 : First Aster 15 missile launch
2003/03 : NATO exercice Pean 2003 with the USS Harry Truman

2004/03-05 : Mission Agapanthe 04 (2nd Indian Ocean deployment)
2004/03/20 : Exercice North Wind 2004 with the UAE Navy/Air Force
2004/04 : Varuna 2004 Exercice with the Indian Navy
2004/04-05 : Heracles II (Afghanistan deployment)
2004/05 : Red shark II exercise with the Saudi Navy/Air Force
2004/05/11 : 10,000th carrier landing logged (by a Super Etandard)

2005/05 : Frame 05 exercise with the US and Canadian Navy
2005/05/22 : First carrier Landing/launch of a F/A-18C Hornet  (Cpt Bishop, VFA-131, CVN-69 Einsenhower)
2005/05/27 : First stop in the USA at Northfolk
2005/06 : Canfrex Exercice with the Canadian Navy
2005/05 : First carrier trials of the Meteor and Exocet missiles on the Rafale M1 

2006/02-06 : Mission Agapanthe 06 (3rd Indian Ocean deployment)
2006/03 :  Red shark III exercise with the Saudi Navy/Air Force
2006/04 :  Varuna 2006 Exercice with the Indian Navy
 2006/04 :  Big Fox 2006 Exercice with theUAE Navy/Air Force
2006/05 : Heracles III (Afghanistan deployment)
2006/06/07 : Rafale M presentation to the Greek authorities
2006/11 : Pean Exercice. First Rafale M F2 (M11 and M12) onboard.

2007/02-05 : Mission Agapanthe 07 (4th Indian Ocean deployment)
2007/02 : White shark 2007 exercise with the Saudi Navy/Air Force
2007/03 : Heracles IV (Afghanistan deployment)
2007/03/28 : First Rafale M F2 GBU-12 strike in Afghanistan
2007/06/14 : First AM-39 bk2 mod2 Exocet missile launch from a Rafale M (Rafale M F3 trial campaign CdG07)
2007/06/19 : a BAE Harrier test aircraft performs vertical TO and landings trials as par of the F-35B project

2007/07-2008/12 : First IPER (large scale maintenance and upgrade period)
2008/12/19 : 1st NH-90 helicopter trials

2009/03-08 : A failure in the propulsive system is detected requiring a 6 months maintenace stop
2009/09/24 : 2 Rafale M F3 are lost due to a mid air collision during weapons trials. (one pilot dead)
2009/11-12 : Pean Exercice. First Rafale M F3 onboard.

2010/04 : NATO Exercice Brillant Mariner (North sea, 40 ships from 12 countries)  
2010/06/04 : Cross deck exercise with the USS Harry Truman
2010/10 - 2011/02 : Mission Agapanthe 10 (5th Indian Ocean deployment)
2010/11/28 : Rafale M18 crashes after it ran out of fuel
2010/12/02 : First Recce mission over Afghanistan of a Rafale M F3 and the reco-NG pod
2010/12/10 : Cross deck exercise with the USS Abraham Lincoln

2011/01 : First operational Damocles pod test on a Rafale M F3 over Afghanistan
2011/01/11-14 : Varuna 2011 exercice with the Indian Navy
2011/01/23-26 : Big Fox 2011 exercice with theUAE Navy/Air Force
2011/02/12-14 : White shark 2011 exercise with the Saudi Navy/Air Force
2011/03-?? : Operation Harmattan (No fly-zone enforcement over Libya - UN resoltion 1973)
2011/03/22 : First war missions over Libya with the Reco NG pod and AASM bombs
2011/03/24 : First scalp strike from a Rafale M F3 on Al Jufra Air Base

Source : The excellent www.ffaa.net web site

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

MMRCA, French ambassador interview

Mr Bonnafont (Left) meets Vice Admiral KN Sushil - May 5th
May 18th, the Hindu is publishing an Interview of Jerome Bonnafont, French Ambassador in India. The French public servant's answers to the Indian Journalist about the ongoing MMRCA contest are very elusive and in line with the usual French behaviour about the India competition for 3 years : The less we talk, the better it is.

Indu : In the joint statement, it was mentioned that the contract for the much-delayed upgrade of the Indian Air Force's Mirage-2000 aircraft would be inked soon. It's five months since. 

J.B : Commercial negotiations are always long; there are so many things to agree upon. It's very complex. It has to go through many processes, so it takes time. But we're hopeful it'll be completed soon. 

Indu : In a major step in the Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) procurement process, India has shortlisted from six contenders the French Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon, asking them to renew their commercial bids. The process has had many twists and turns from the time the Request for Proposal went out with speculative stories doing the rounds, MMRCA files going for jaunts and the like. How do you view the latest development? 

J.B : At this stage, I'll be extremely sober and quick in my answer. Rafale is an exceptional plane which is in operation in many significant fields of operation showing its performance there. We're very satisfied that it is allowed to continue in the race. The French government is giving 100 per cent support to Dassault and for the continuation of its discussions with the Government of India. 

Indu : Is there a Navy angle to the MMRCA competition? While Rafale boasts a naval variant, the Typhoon naval version is under development. Would there be a French pitch if the Indian Navy sought to buy a new carrier-borne fighter? 

J.B : I'm not going to elaborate on that. 

This last cursory reply alone tells a lot about how cautious (paranoiac ?) the French are regarding the MMRCA. Yet, Everybody will have understood that the "Navy angle of the MMRCA" will most likely play a  significant role in the indian final choice. Similarly, EADS strong advertising for its Typhoon N at the last aero India air show was certainly not innocent...

Artist view of a stealthy Rafale

3D artist, Buitreaux, has created a quite interesting Rafale 3D model with new stealth features such has a twin tail fin or low RCS weapon containers as seen on the F/A-18 Silent Hornet.
May be the post 2020 Rafale will look like this, who knows ? :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rafale picture of the day, Indian magic time.

"Dassault Test Pilot Dominique Sébastien goes through the numbers on his HUD while slowing down on rwy 09 as the last Customer Demo Flight of the day brings Shiv Aroor (in the backseat) back to Terra Firma just as the sun was completing its descent below the horizon. 6:11pm local time" - Aero India 2011 © Vishal Jolapara on JetPhotos.net

Saturday, May 14, 2011

April and May magazines

Air actualité N°641 (French)
Harmatan, Air operations in Libya
Air Fan N°389 (French)
The CdG in action in the Indian Ocean
DSI N°70 (French)
War in Libya
Air International May 2011
Rafale leading the strikes against Libya

Rafale video by Lionel Charlet

Lybia, May 5-12th air operation stats

May 5-12th  missions log - (230 sorties - rate>30 sorties/day - 20% of  NATO sorties - 30% of NATO ground attack sorties) :
Picture 1 - © French Air Force
  • CAS and interdiction (=) : 110 flights (Rafale, Mirage 2000D, Mirage 2000N*,  Mirage F1 CR, Super Etendard)
  • Reconnaissance (-10%) : 56 flights (Rafale, Mirage F1 CR)
  • Inflight refueling (+7%) : 29 flights (C-135, Rafale M, Super Etendard)
  • AWACS (=) : 12 flights (E-3F, E-2C)
  • Air Defense (-5%) : 20 flights (Mirage 2000-5F)
* First Mirage 2000N war missions since the Kosovo campaign back in 1995

About 50 targets destroyed :

  • 6 artilery guns including 2 MRL (Misratah, Yafran)
  • about 15 military vehicules including 13 MBT (Adjabya)
  • 2 command centers (Syrte, Tripoli)
  • about 30 ammunition depots (Tripoli, Zintan, Syrte, Misratah)
Source : http://www.defense.gouv.fr/

picture 1 : Weapon specialists prepare to load an 1 metric ton GBU-24 on a Mirage 2000N/D. As far as we know, this is the first time that the French Air Force is using this king of heavy LGB during the Libyan campaign. it is also worth noting that non explosive LGB are also being used to prevent collateral damage as much as possible when strikes are done near populated areas. However, it is not known if those weapons have been used by the Rafale yet.

Rafale pictures of the day : New aircrafts delivered

Rafale C130 during a reception flight at Bordeaux Merignac - ©Frenchskies - May 9th 2011
Note the single centerline 2000L tank which is the usual loadout for reception flights.

Rafale M32 spotted at Landivisiau  Naval Base - ©Azraelle - May 5th 2011

Saturday, May 7, 2011

French Olympic champion in the Rafale

The French swimmer Alain Bernard
May 5th, the French swimmer Alain Bernard (100m freestyle Olympic gold Medal in 2008) has visited a Rafale at the Salon de provence Air Base, home the Patrouille de France, the French Air Force aerobatic team. The Champion is supporting the Solid'Air charity association which is helping the French Air Force families with a handicaped children.

A. Bernard climbing on the Rafale ladder ©JM Tanguy
Source : Le Mamouth defense Blog

Libya, April 22-27 and March 29- May 5 air operations stats

April 28- May 5 missions log - (230 sorties - rate>30 sorties/day - 20% of  NATO sorties - 30% of NATO ground attack sorties) :
  • CAS and interdiction (+14%) : 110 flights (Rafale, Mirage 2000D, Mirage F1 CR, Super Etendard)
  • Reconnaissance (+13%) : 62 flights (Rafale, Mirage F1 CR)
  • Inflight refueling (-16%) : 27 flights (C-135, Rafale M, Super Etendard)
  • AWACS (=) : 12 flights (E-3F, E-2C)
  • Air Defense (=) : 21 flights (Mirage 2000-5F)
About 20 targets destroyed :
  • 1 MRL (Adjabya)
  • about 15 military vehicules including 5 MBT (Misrata, Adjabya)
  • 2 logistic warehouse (Tripoli)
  • 1 communication and command center (Tripoli)
  • 1 ammunition depots (Syrte)
Source : http://www.defense.gouv.fr/

picture 1 : A pair of Rafale M about to take of for a Night time mission over libya

April 21-28 mission log - (216 sorties - rate>30 sorties/day - 20% of  NATO sorties - 25% of NATO ground attack sorties) :

  • CAS and interdiction (-29%) : 96 flights (Rafale, Mirage 2000D, Mirage F1 CR, Super Etendard)
  • Reconnaissance (+6%) : 55 flights (Rafale, Mirage F1 CR)
  • Inflight refueling (-27%) : 32 flights (C-135, Rafale M, Super Etendard)
  • AWACS (-34%) : 12 flights (E-3F, E-2C)
  • Air Defense (-19%) : 21 flights (Mirage 2000-5F)
Targets destroyed :
  • 1 SAM site and 1 MRL (Tripoli)
  • about 10 armored vehicules, 2 ammunition transporters and a MBT  (Misrata, Adjabya, Tripoli)
  • 4 BM21 (Misrata, Adjabiya)
  • 1 ammunition depots (Syrte)
Source : http://www.defense.gouv.fr/

picture 2 : View on the CDG deck The aircraft carrier will make a few days stop in a Mediterranean harbor soon to allow the crew to rest.

Libya, AASM sead capability demonstrated (2)

A very informative article about the Sagem AASM sead potential can be read on Defense Update.
As far as i know, this is the first time that I read about a 180° off axis targeting capability for this weapon. Until now, only 90° was claimed by Sagem.

I reproduce it here for the record :

French AASM Demonstrates Outstanding Versatility in Libyan Campaign

AASM being reloaded on Rafale - 2011/04
The Libyan campaign has emphasized unique advantages of the French AASM-250 autonomous guided weapons. Previously criticized in the media as an excessively expensive weapon, AASM proved its value in offering operational flexibility, in providing small fighting formations the effects achied by much larger strike forces. The weapon was developed to meet a wide range of counter-air and offensive air missions, including Counter Air Defense/(Suppression of Enemy Air Defense – SEAD), Air Interdiction and Deep Strikes, to Close Air Support (CAS) including precision attacks in urban environments, as well as anti-ship missions.

Relying on the AASM extended stand-off range, Rafales were tasked to suppress and destroy SA-3 air defense sites during the initial phases of the conflict. During these strikes, utilizing the Rafales’ on-board sensor fusion capability, integrating data obtained from on-board sensors and external sources, delivered over Link-16, the fighters could generate strike coordinates based on real-time data, and feed it to the weapon in flight. The French fighters succeeded to hit the active sites with AASM, launching the weapons from long distance, outside the SA-3 launch envelope. Since each individual weapon is programmed with specific target coordinates, multiple weapons can be employed from the same aircraft, to attack different targets. Each weapon can be reprogrammed in flight, enabling it to engage several targets simultaneously (up to six in the case of the Rafale.)

A significant advantage of the AASM is the ability to retarget the weapon from the cockpit, just before launch. A Rafale carrying six weapons, each programmed with six different targets prior to takeoff. In addition to hitting each of the targets, the same fighter can re-attack targets already engaged but not destroyed, ensuring mission success, avoiding the high risk and costs involved with repeat missions, following battle damage assessment. Overall, Sagem claims a mission success rate of over 90%, compared to 70%, achieved by unpowered (gliding) laser guided or geo-targeted weapons, which are also restricting mission planning in flight envelope, flight trajectory, impact angle and penetration.
When employed against air defense assets, the combination of the weapon’s stand-off range and re-attack capability means an air defense site would be taken out of operation for longer periods, delivering higher success rate in SEAD operations and precision attacks of high value targets. Another important capability, particularly in today’s hybrid warfare, is the weapon’s flexibility in striking ‘time critical targets’. During the recent attacks in Libya, a Rafale pilot clearly demonstrated such method, when spotting a Libyan Soko G2 Galeb aircraft flying near Misrata. As the Libyan plane landed at the base, the Rafale pilot acquired its coordinates as a ‘target of opportunity’, fed the data to the weapon and launched the GPS/INS guided AASM against the target. As the weapon dropped, it homed in on the exact spot and destroyed the Libyan aircraft on the tarmac.
Operational with the French Air Force, and French Naval Aviation, AASM is produced made by Safran subsidiary Sagem DS. The weapon was first deployed in Afghanistan with the French Rafale in 2008. The baseline AASM kit comprises of the INS/GPS guidance system, designed for standard 250 kg (500 pounds) bombs. The AASM family will eventually include 125, 500 and 1,000 kg (250, 1000, and 2000 pounds) versions. Since the French forces have received only the initial deliveries of 3,500 weapons ordered, chances are that the used inventory could be replenished by extending current production runs. It is assumed that new weapons could be delivered at considerably lower costs than the original ones, as the manufacturer has stepped up the learning curve. Nevertheless, the cost of a basic AASM is still expected to ship at around $300,000 apiece (€200,000).
The weapon uses a booster/sustainer rocket engine accelerating it to the designated cruising speed and altitude, from where it is designed to continue through an autonomous operation, in day or night and in all weather conditions. It can be released at low altitude, and can also be fired up to 180 degrees off-axis in relation to the aircraft’s flight path, (‘backwards’) attacking targets from any direction, from standoff distance exceeding 50 km.

AASM-250 weapons are currently fitted with inertial/GPS guidance. The addition of semi-active laser seeker, and algorithms to track fixed or mobile targets during the terminal phase, will enhance the operational flexibility of the AASM family. Two versions are currently available and qualified for firing by the Rafale multirole fighter – the inertial/GPS and soon to be fielded inertial/GPS/infrared. The laser terminal guidance version of the AASM is expected to enter volume production for the French air force and navy starting at the end of 2012.
In addition to the basic GPS/INS guidance, AASM will also offer optional terminal guidance kits. These add-on features currently under development, will increase attack precision and enable engagement of fast moving targets. The infra-red seeker enables the weapon to hit small targets with distinctive signature, overcoming target location errors y undertaking a terminal correction just before impact. The semi-active laser seeker, along with associated moving target algorithms enable engagement of any surface target (stationary or moving) illuminated by a target designator, even targets travelling at high speed.

The AASM-125 was successfully tested in February 2009 on a Mirage 2000. The AASM-1000 is under development, as are new features such as airburst and data link. The AASM has also been selected to equip the Moroccan Mirage F-1s and are considered a likely choice for Air Forces considering the French Rafale (India, Brazil). Sagem is also addressing other platforms as well, including opportunities to arm Mirage 2000s in foreign service.

Also read :
AASM seadcapability demonstrated

Video of rafale (AASM) strike

Thursday, May 5, 2011

MMRCA, The Indian shortlist shock wave

4 Rafale alongside a Su-30MKI - Red Flag 2008/09
Despite being rumored for 9 months, the selection of the Rafale and the Typhoon by the IAF came as a surprise for many observers who thought that US pressure would have prevailed and forced the Indian MoD to keep at least the F/A-18 for the final phase of the contest. Besides, few people was really convinced that the 2 most expensive fighters would be shortlisted. Yet, that's what happened and the aftermaths could spread well beyond the MMRCA.

To explain its decision, the Indian MoD asserts that the shorlist has been made based on the IAF evaluation results only, thus excluding political or economical aspects. In 2009 and 2010 the IAF has indeed conducted one of the most extensive field trial campaign ever made during an international contest : no less than 640 technical points were assessed on all 6 contenders, including the now famous high altitute take off tests at Leh Air base, as well as weapons trials in the countries of origin of each plane.

The fact that the Rafale and the Typhoon emerged as the 2 best planes on technical merit only and after such a comprehensive evalution could become a valuable advertising in other international contests. The first choice of the IAF which has a requirement for 126 of these planes (extensible to 200), will most probably influence the established perception on the respective capabilities of the fighters available on the market : Indeed, US aircrafts are often seen as more capable, no mater what (this MMRCA Analysis by Mr. Tellis is a very good example of this state of mind).

As far as the Rafale is concerned, the F/A-18E elimination by the IAF is a very good news for Dassault as it might facilitate the French company resistance to Boeing's aggressive marketting in the UAE, Qatar and Kuweit.
This is also true for Brazil : The rejection of the Gripen NG and Super Hornet in India is a big setback for Saab and Boeing and one more argument in favor of the Rafale in the FX-2 contest when it will restart. We should not forget that the US ambassador in Brazil was thinking of using the (bogus) Rafale elimination in India, back in 2009, in order to discredit the French plane (as revealed by Wikileaks). The situation is clearly reversed now that the Rafale has received its "approved by the IAF" stamp.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rafale pictures of the day

Meteor trials on Rafale M1 ©Dassault

Flares dispenser ©Dassault

Laser AASM trials ©DGA

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

100th Rafale Delivered

According to the Delta Reflex Spotters, the 100th production Rafale, the C130 (30th Rafale C) would have made its reception flight on April 27th at the Bordeaux-Merignac airport.

The current delivery log should be :
  • 4 production aircrafts used for trials :  B301, B302, C101, M1
  • 9 Rafale M F1 (tranche 1): M2 to M10 put in storage and waiting for their F3 upgrade.
  • 48 Rafale F3 (Tranche 2, former F2) : 
    • 7 C (C102 to C108)
    • 25 B (B303 to B327)
    • 16 M (M11 to M26)
  • 39 Rafale F3 (Tranche 3) : 
    • 22 C (C109 to C130)
    • 11 B (B328 to B338)
    • 6 M (M27 to M32)
So a total of  32 Rafale M, 38 Rafale B and 30 Rafale C.
Among those 100 fighters delivered so far, only 83 (19 M,  35 B and 29 C) are in operational service (3M and 1B lost, 9M in storage, 2B, 1C and 1M for trials)