French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation has achieved a new feat by delivering the first Rafale fighter jet upgraded to the F4.1 standard to the French Air Force.
The French Ministry of the Armed Forces made the announcement on March 3. The Ministry said the first Rafale F4 was delivered to the French Air Warfare Center (CEAM) at the Mont-de-Marsan Air Base near Bordeaux on March 2, 2023.
In a statement, Lieutenant-Colonel Guillaume, second in command of the Fighter and Experimentation Squadron (ECE), stated, “The first plane we received today is one of the F3Rs that we sent to the Flight Test Center of the General Directorate of Armaments, in Istres, for their software transformation.”
The latest “F4” upgrade for the Rafale, which the French military procurement agency Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) plans to have fully operational by 2025, started flight tests in April 2021.
The operational entry into service of the F3R standard was signed in March 2021 by the French Air and Space Army and the French Navy.
Guillaume further highlighted that other brand-new aircraft would be received directly from the Dassault manufacturing facilities and would complete the fleet of fighters gradually transferred to Istres to upgrade from the F3R standard to the F4.1.
On January 14, 2019, Florence Parly, then minister of the armed forces, appointed Dassault Aviation to develop the fresh F4 Standard for the Rafale. The value of the contract was put at €2 billion.
The F4 standard is projected to link the Rafale and France’s next-generation fighter aircraft, which is being developed as part of the tri-national Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program.
Under the program, France, Germany, and Spain are collaborating to develop a new fighter jet that will be operational by 2040, along with a slew of cutting-edge capabilities.
The fleets of Rafales and Eurofighter Typhoons of the partnered nations would be replaced with the next-generation fighter.
In December 2022, industry partners Dassault, Airbus Defense and Space, and Indra Systems stated that they had agreed to move to the next phase in the FCAS’ research and development work.
Rafale’s ‘F4’ Upgrade
The first phase will start with the delivery of the first Rafale of F4.1 standard, which will see the “induction” of the aircraft. The goal is to induct the aircraft so that the 30th Fighter Wing pilots can use the plane as soon as feasible.
This stage is vital to enabling the military to use the Rafale F4.1 for training missions initially. The next step will be to approve the Rafale F4’s first operational capability (PCO); later, full operational commissioning will follow.
The F4 Standard aims to increase Rafale’s connectivity with other systems by introducing new intra-patrol and satellite links, communication servers, and software radio. Furthermore, the fighter can integrate with the Future Combat Air System.
A helmet-mounted sight with augmented reality and a TALIOS (Targeting long-range identification optronic system) pod, both manufactured by the French company Thales, were integrated to boost the fighting capability.
Moreover, the Rafale F4 can drop precision-guided AASM 1000 “Hammer” bombs that weigh one ton. This enormous upgrade to its core capabilities is one of the required evolutions to increase the French Air Force’s operational life and prepare it to operate alongside the FCAS.
Meanwhile, it was reported that France would purchase 42 Dassault Rafale fighters in 2023 to fill the capacity deficit caused by selling 24 used aircraft to Greece and Croatia. In 2020, according to a goal set by then-Defense Minister Florence Parly, the French Air Force’s mainstay Rafale fighter jets will increase from 102 to 129 by 2025.
The fighter jet’s recent commercial success threw this plan off course. In response to rising territorial concerns with Turkey, Greece ordered 18 Rafale F3R fighters for the Hellenic Air Force in January 2021.
Twelve aircraft were taken from the French Air Force’s inventory to expedite delivery. One month later, twelve Rafales were ordered to replace the used planes.
In May 2021, Croatia announced the purchase of 12 pre-owned French F3R Rafale fighter aircraft to upgrade the nation’s air force. That said, those 42 new aircraft will most probably be supplied in the F4 standard.