Helmet sight, connectivity, firepower… How the Rafale 4.1 prepares for “high intensity”

Don’t look for a difference: in appearance, the Rafale 4.1 is exactly the same as the current version, the F3-R. “The hull is identical, confirms Colonel Christophe, director of experiments at the CEAM (Military Air Expertise Center), but it’s as if you had taken an old smartphone and downloaded the latest version of the software. »

Installed on the BA 118 in Mont-de-Marsan, the CEAM received the very first Rafale in the 4.1 standard last Thursday. This Rafale B of an old standard, had previously been sent to the Flight Test Center of the General Directorate of Armaments (DGA), in Istres, which carried out the software transformation. But what does this new version bring to the device?

“Greater firepower at a distance”

“This version 4.1 brings many improvements, in particular on the radar and the self-protection system which protects the aircraft against electromagnetic threats that would arrive from outside. [Système de protection et d’évitement des conduites de tir du Rafale, Spectra], explains Colonel Christophe. We also have new capacities, I am thinking in particular of the Scorpion helmet sight [développé par Thales], who can designate targets directly with the headset, just by looking at them. This is done today with cockpit interfaces, screens, there, it will suffice to turn your head to designate targets, in the air or on the ground. This system works via a sensor built into the visor, which can see as far as aircraft sensors can see. The technology is not new, however, and should even have already equipped the Rafale in its previous version.

Colonel Christophe, director of experiments at the CEAM (Military Air Expertise Center). – Mickael Bosredon

Another novelty: the armament. “We will be able to use modular air-to-ground weapons [AASM] with a capacity of one ton, whereas the aircraft can currently only carry a 250 kg AASM bomb. In its current version, the Rafale can carry a one-ton bomb, but only a GBU-24 (Guided Bomb Unit). “The GBU-24 is an American manufacture whose capacities are much shorter, explains Colonel Christophe. The AASL is a propelled armament, which allows deeper extensions, which will therefore offer greater firepower at a distance. »

“Having planes connected to each other, and with drones, satellites…”

The purpose of this F4 standard is also to bring new technological bricks in terms of connectivity. “Simplifying, up to now our planes have been working a bit each in their own corner, continues the director of experiments. There, the goal is to have planes that work in a connected way, with other planes, drones, satellites… We will also have planes capable of guiding the armament of other planes, of putting systems in collaboration electronic warfare of several aircraft. The more we go towards high intensity, and this is what the Ukrainian theater shows us among others, the more we have to adapt our tools, which means working together to have sensors connected and process information in real time. »

After having received this first device “retrofitted” to the F4.1 standard, the CEAM will receive a second in a few days, but this time a new one, straight out of the Dassault factories. “This one, in addition to its new version, will have new capabilities and new wiring,” says Colonel Christophe. The pilots of the 1/30 Côte d’Argent Fighter and Experimentation Squadron will carry out multiple flights with these two aircraft until this summer. Then comes the “adoption” stage. In other words, all the Mont-de-Marsan fighter squadrons will in turn fly with this F4.1 standard to make it their own. “On the other hand, they will not be able to go into battle with it yet. »

A hundred Rafale to update

By the end of 2023, the CEAM will complete its recommendations to the General Staff, who will give the green light or not in order to have a first “operational capability” at the F4.1 standard. “Only at this stage will we be able to launch this new standard in a theater of operations. The operational entry into service on the full spectrum of the Rafale is expected for the end of 2024, beginning of 2025,” said Colonel Christophe. We are talking about the update of the hundred Rafale of the Air Force and Space, in addition to the expected delivery of 28 new devices which must leave the factory. “The objective is to have a single fleet with this F4.1 standard. »

Other versions are expected. “This F4 standard is divided into three sub-categories: 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3, further explains Colonel Christophe. We can speak of a “technological leap” once the entire F4 standard has been adopted. And the story will certainly not end there, since there is already talk of an F5 standard, which could make the transition before the arrival of the Scaf, Air Combat System of the Futurewhich is supposed to enter service in 2040, but which could be delayed.

source site