Even though the FCAS (Future Air Combat System) is now in the process of being created, France is developing Rafales with hypersonic, stealth missiles as well as sophisticated communications. While FCAS is scheduled to arrive around 2040 (which is very optimistic, ed.), the Rafale does not aim to retire to the hangar quietly.
Dassault Aviation is working on two new variants of the French combat aircraft. In 2023, the F4 standard model will start the qualification phase. This fighter will be “optimised for collaborative battle.”
But, Dassault engineers, the Direction générale de l’armement (DGA), and industry partners are already working on the future of the aircraft termed “the best plane in the world” by Serge Dassault. It will be “operational until 2060,” according to the maker.
This year, teams will begin planning the Rafale at the F5 level for a launch in 2026-2027. It will be more connected and equipped with a device for cyber combat. Elements will emphasise its prudence by lowering its visibility.
France will also have to develop a new Rafale standard to guarantee the continuity of the airborne component of its nuclear deterrent, which will be based on the ASN4G hypersonic ramjet missile over the next decade.
According to Emmanuel Chiva – Délégué General pour l’Armement, as per a French publication Zone Militaire, the ASN4G will be integrated into the NGF (new generation combat aircraft based on FCAS) ten to fifteen years after it enters operational service under the F5 standard of the Rafale, which obliges France to show for this device a certain requirement in terms of ambition, so that its (air defence, ed.) penetration capacity remains credible, at least until 2060.
The Rafale will then have to deal with the most efficient ground-to-air defence systems and operate in extremely scrambled environments, explains General Laurent Rataud, Deputy Chief of Staff for Program Plans [SCPP] of the Air Force & Space, in a parliamentary report published in 2021, which will require providing it with means of electronic warfare and navigational warfare, as well as possibly effective means of suppressing enemy air defence.
In the short term, the French Air and Space Force (AAE) and Naval Aviation will have Rafale F4, the first generation of connectivity standards. The Rafale F5 will embody the latter.
Taking into account the development of the Rafale standards, it enables the creation of a connection or the exchange of data between different types of aircraft, including fighters and support aircraft, according to General Stéphane Mille, Chief of Staff of the AAE, during a recent parliamentary session on the nuclear deterrent. The F4 standard will be the first generation of connectivity, and the F5 standard will be the second generation, giving more secure connectivity, says General Stéphane Mille.
Nonetheless, considerable changes to the Rafale will be required. According to CEMAAE, when the F5 standard is implemented, the plane will look drastically different. The radar, electronic countermeasures, and computer required for connectivity will all have been modified. He noted that the computer capabilities needed to analyse hundreds of thousands of data necessitate wiring that the Rafale, as it is presently, cannot sustain.
He also mentioned that several standards would coexist, which would be fine because the complementarity of methods is its strength, with each device having its benefits. He said that this would not be an issue.
In addition, the ASN4G should be significantly bigger than the present Air-Sol Moyenne Portée-Amélioré [ASMP-A, Air-Ground Medium Range / Upgraded] implemented by the Rafale B of the Strategic Air Forces and the Rafale M of the Nuclear Naval Air Force. Indeed, it is a “large missile,” emphasised General Mille.
It remains to be seen what impact this will have on the Rafale’s F5 standard, which, as indicated by AAE’s No. 2 General Frédéric Parisot, will be equipped with an astounding array of capabilities, some of which one cannot yet imagine.
What else do we know of Rafale F5 so far
The engine blades have been shrunk so that they cannot be seen from the front, and the trailing edges on the wings will further lessen the radar echo. According to Dassault, this is not stealth but rather improved stealth to improve its effectiveness. Stealth will exist, but only at the level of weaponry. The Rafale F5 could be fitted with stealthy subsonic missiles. Moreover, if the plane’s speed remains around Mach 1.8, it may also transport hypersonic missiles.
In air-to-surface munitions, the replacement of the Scalp and the AM39 Exocet is being planned, according to a document issued by Dassault and signed by Guilhem Reboul, Rafale programme director for the DGA. For the latter, two vastly different technical alternatives are being researched in close collaboration with the British: a manoeuvrable hypersonic device and a highly nimble subsonic stealth missile. There is currently no agreement between these two concepts.
Dassault, in the past, revealed that the F5 could utilise drone effectors and remote armament. In other words, the crew will be able to handle swarms of drones and remotely trigger their firing.
Certain FCAS technologies, such as stealth and others, will be developed from the nEUROn project and some from Rafale F5, which will be compatible with the future air combat system.