STUTTGART, Germany — France has received its first new Rafale fighter jet in four years, manufacturer Dassault Aviation announced Jan. 10.
The company delivered the F3-R standard aircraft to the French military procurement agency Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) on Dec. 29, according to a company press release. The aircraft is included in the “Tranche 4″ order of 60 new aircraft awarded in 2009, but which was then paused due to budgetary reasons.
For the past several years, Dassault has dedicated its Rafale production line to exports, as nations including Greece, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates have placed orders for the fighter jet.
But France’s 2023 defense budget, released this past September, included plans to order 42 new Rafale aircraft, signaling an end to the budget-imposed hiatus. Those aircraft include 30 aircraft that will be delivered under the forthcoming “Tranche 5″ order, as well as 12 additional aircraft meant to replace existing Rafales that France withdrew from its air force to sell to Croatia, in a 2021 deal worth an estimated €999 million (U.S. $1.1 billion).
Croatia is slated to receive the first six fighter jets in 2024, with the remaining six aircraft arriving in 2025. Those 12 Rafales will replace the Croatian Air Force’s Soviet-designed Mikoyan MiG-21 fighters.
Dassault plans to deliver an additional 27 Rafales to France by the end of 2024 under the Tranche 4 order, along with the 12 new aircraft meant to replace those bound for Zagreb, the company said.
The Rafale is outfitted with two Safran-built Snecma M88 engines and a Thales-built RBE2 AA active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. The F-3R standard, declared fully operational in 2021, is equipped with MBDA’s Meteor long-range air-to-air missile as well as Thales’ Talios laser designator pod for use in air-to-ground strikes, and the laser homing version of Safran’s AASM air-to-ground modular weapon, per Dassault.
France’s DGA began flight tests for the Rafale’s next “F4″ upgrade in April 2021, slated for full availability by 2025. The new standard will upgrade existing capabilities including the Thales ASEA radar and Talios targeting pod, as well as the Rafale’s electronic warfare system, and communications suite. New capabilities for the F4 include the Thales Scorpion Helmet Mounted Display, MBDA’s MICA NG (Next-Generation) air-to-air missile and the 1,000 kilogram variant of Safran’s AASM (armement air-sol modulaire) “Hammer” precision-guided munition.
The F4 standard is expected to serve as a bridge between the Rafale and France’s next-generation fighter aircraft being developed under the trinational Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program.
Under the program, France, Germany, and Spain would co-develop a new fighter jet expected to be fielded by 2040, along with a slew of state-of-the-art capabilities including a new engine for the fighter jet, a next-generation weapon system, new drones, advanced sensors and stealth technology, and an air combat cloud network. The next-gen fighter would replace the nations’ existing fleets of Rafales and Eurofighter Typhoons.
After over a year of delays, industry partners Dassault, Airbus Defence and Space, and Indra Systems have reached an agreement to move to the next phase in the FCAS’ research-and-development efforts, the companies announced last month. The contracts must now be signed by the program’s managing body – France’s DGA – before Phase 1B can formally launch.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.