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Meet France’s Dassault Rafale: The Best Fourth-Generation Fighter Jet?

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Meet the Dassault Rafale – One of the most distinctive modern fighter jets, undoubtedly, is the Dassault Rafale. Featuring delta wings, and close-coupled canards, the Rafale stands apart from the crowd of horizontal elevator-configured jets.

Maneuverable Design

Designed in the 1980s for the French armed forces, the Rafale is highly maneuverable. The pairing of the delta wing with the canards allowed for an airframe with exceptional agility – and the capacity to withstand between -3.6g and 9g safely. Actually, the Rafale can handle 11g’s, although doing so is not advised other than in cases of emergency.

High agility is typically a two-sided coin. On the other side find aerodynamic instability. To help pilots operate such an unstable aircraft, the Rafale relies on digital fly-by-wire flight controls, which help maintain stability. The Rafale is also capable of operating at low speeds. The landing speed is just 132 miles per hour. By comparison, the F-16 lands at about 185 miles per hour.

In training missions, the Rafale has been observed operating with air speeds as low as 17 miles per hour. One benefit of being able to operate at such low air speeds is compatibility with STOBAR-configured aircraft carriers. STOBAR carriers have a “ski-jump” system, which helps an aircraft generate enough lift to take off at low air speeds. Still, to operate from a STOBAR carrier, an airframe needs to be able to take off at low speeds. The Dassault Rafale fits the bill.

Ultra Marine

Because the Dassault Rafale is capable of operating from aircraft carriers, the M-variant (or “Marine” variant) was designed with some helpful features: a reinforced undercarriage helps to sustain against the stresses of naval landings, an arrestor hook, and a “jump strut” nosewheel.

For cost preserving reasons, Dassault elected not to craft the Rafale into a full-fledged stealth aircraft. However, the Rafale was designed with a reduced radar cross-section (RCS). To achieve a reduced RCS, the Rafale was built with a small vertical stabilizer, a reshaped fuselage, and the placement of the engine air inlets beneath the aircraft’s wing. Additionally, the Rafale was constructed with composite materials; 70 percent of the Rafale’s surface area is built from composite materials. Surely, other features help reduce the Rafale’s RCS – but those features remain classified.

Powering the Rafale are two Snecma M88 engines. Each M88 offers 11,000 pounds of thrust in a clean configuration. With afterburners engaged, the M88 delivers 17,000 pounds of thrust. The M88 allows the Rafale to achieve supercruise, or supersonic speeds without afterburners, while also featuring technology that reduces the engine’s RCS.

The Dassault Rafale carries a handsome array of armaments. The Air Force variants (Rafales B/C) have 14 hardpoints, while the Navy’s M-variant has 13. The Rafale can lug a 20,900-pound payload and is compatible with a variety of missiles and bombs – even an ASMP-A nuclear missile. The ASMP-A is a medium-range air-to-surface cruise missile, carrying a nuclear warhead meant to serve as a last-resort “warning shot” prior to the full-scale deployment of nukes.

Recently, the Dassault Rafale has been exported to various foreign buyers. Last year, Greece received delivery of its first Rafale. Egypt operates a fleet of 24 Rafales. India has 35. Croatia, Indonesia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates all have pending Rafale orders.

Look for this fourth-generation fighter to be in the skies for years to come.

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