Responding to operational demands, Dassault is not lagging behind – the company announced plans to extend the capabilities and roles of the Rafale ‘omnirole’ fighter and In 2007, following an accelerated integration of some weapons, the first multi-role Rafales were sent to Afghanistan where they demonstrated high mission availability and impressive combat capability. Another major milestone was passed recently with the official award of Active Electronic Active Array (AESA) radar development by the Ministry of Defense.
The RBE2 AESA radar will improve the aircraft performance and make it more appealing on the export market. The RBE2 variant will be fully compatible, in terms of detection range, with the new Meteor beyond-visual-range (BVR) missile currently under development for several European air forces. Except of the AESA radar, Rafale will also receive a new missile launch detector and an optronic search and track (IRST), improving target detection and identification performance while maintaining low observability and minimum emission by radar. These systems will become operational with Rafale aircraft delivered to the French Air Force and French Navy beginning 2012.
Beginning in March 2007, French Rafale fighters operated from the French Navy aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle’ and from the Dushanbe airbase in Tadzhikistan, in support of NATO operations in Afghanistan. The operation necessitated some ad-hoc adaptations of the air-defense fighters, preparing them for the ground support role. To meet this requirement, Dassault Aviation integrated two versions of 500 lbs (250kg class) guided weapons – the GBU-12 and GBU-22 laser guided bombs. The flight envelope expansion including fifteen firing trials were conducted in less than three months, clearing the aircraft for precision strike role in early March 2007. Each aircraft was cleared to carry a total of six GBU-12 or GBU-22 bombs. By the end of March 2007, a total force of 15 aircraft were deployed to the theatre, comprising of nine F1 Rafale air-defense fighters, flying combat air patrols in support of the Charles de Gaulle’s carrier air group while the modified Navy Rafales were committed to precision strike, ground support role.
The first GBU-12s were dropped on 28 March 2007 in support of Dutch troops. Two days later, Air Force Rafales, operating from Tadzhikistan were also engaged against enemy forces. According to French records, throughout the deployment the Rafales were 100% mission ready, demonstrating excellent availability and support.
As of late 2009 Rafales are being proposed to India (126), Brazil (36), UAE (60) and Libya with potential prospects luming in Greece. The aircraft failed prospective sales to Singapore and Morocco.