STUTTGART, Germany — The French Air and Space Force has received the first of its most sophisticated Rafale fighter jets, reaching a milestone after four years of development.

The service’s Air Warfare Center, located on the 118th air base in southwestern France, took possession of the first F4.1 standard Rafale on March 2, the Ministry of Defense announced in a March 7 statement.

Development of the F4 standard kicked off in 2019, when then-Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly signed a €2 billion ($2.12 billion) contract with manufacturer Dassault.

The aircraft was originally one of several F3R-standard Rafales delivered starting earlier this year to the French military procurement office Direction Generale de l’Armement (DGA). The aircraft underwent a “software transformation” and transitioned to the F4 standard at the DGA’s flight test center in Istres, near Marseille, per the ministry release.

A second F4 aircraft is expected to be delivered in the coming weeks. The jets will then be integrated into the service’s 30th Fighter Wing to begin training in anticipation of an Initial Operating Capability (IOC) decision.

France’s DGA began flight tests for the F4 standard in April 2021, and the aircraft is slated for full availability by 2025.

The new standard includes upgrades to existing capabilities like the Thales AESA radar and Talios targeting pod along with 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 new aircraft is expected to serve as a bridge between the Rafale and France’s next-generation fighter being developed alongside Germany and Spain under the trinational Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program, slated to be fielded around 2040.

The January delivery of the F3R standard aircraft marked the first Rafale delivered to the nation’s military after a four-year pause. France’s proposed 2023 defense budget, released in September 2022, includes 42 new Rafales, including 30 under the forthcoming Tranche 5 contract.

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.

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