PARIS – France has given the green light for development work to upgrade the Rafale to a new F4 standard, drawing on lessons learned in combat missions and to boost the fighter jet's performance in a network, the defense ministry said.
"The defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, decided at the March 20 ministerial investment committee to authorize the launch of work on development of a new F4 standard of the Rafale fighter," the ministry said in a March 22 statement.
Dassault Aviation, the prime contractor, welcomed the decision, which would improve the Rafale's performance and help export efforts.
The work will draw on "lessons learned from operations," improve capabilities while flying in a national and coalition mission, and boost networked sensor integration and communications, the ministry said. Expected changes in missiles, engines and new capabilities will be factored in.
A first full F4 standard fighter is expected to enter service in 2025, with some of the improvements due to be available in 2023.
Over time, the Rafale F4 will replace the single-engine Mirage 2000 and allow the French Air Force to fly an all-Rafale fleet.
"This new standard is in pursuit of the continuous evolution of this aircraft, which will gradually make up the whole fleet of manned French combat aircraft," the ministry said. Fresh orders will also be placed for more Rafales in the next multiyear budget law.
France has so far ordered 180 Rafales of the planned total fleet of 225 of the twin-engine fighters, with deliveries of a batch of 28 aircraft due to start in 2021.
"The launch of the F4 standard is indispensable to deliver to our services by 2025 an aircraft of higher performance, responding to the reality of engagements increasingly demanding," Le Drian said in a statement. The development work will bring closely together the services, Direction Générale de l'Armement procurement office and defense companies.
Major suppliers of subsystems are Thales and Safran, with MBDA supplying missiles.
A first version of the F4 standard will follow the F3-R standard, which is due for qualification in 2018, Dassault said.
"I am delighted by the minister of defense's decision," Dassault chairman and CEO Eric Trappier said in a statement. The work would strengthen "national skills and technological capabilities" key to development of the next-generation combat aircraft, he said, adding, "Finally, this robust national foundation will constitute a launch pad for our aircraft in future export markets."
The French Air Force and French Navy fly the Rafale, with both services flying the airborne nuclear deterrent, which is due to be upgraded.