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July 2011

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RAFALE
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20 Avionics Magazine July 2011 www.avionicstoday.com
military
The French fighter jet, equipped with imaging processing, munition
and targeting pods, demonstrates its power in missions over Libya
By Jean-Michel Guhl
O
nly a few European manu-
facturers produce and devel-
op high-tech fighter aircraft.
The Eurofighter and the
Rafale are the final con-
tenders selected by the Indian air force
in the 125+ aircraft purchase program to
replace that services old MiG-21 fleet.
Both companies are gloating about their
respective fighters warfighting qualities
while both aircraft demonstrate excellent
combat readiness over the Libyan theatre.
If the nearly decade long anti-Taliban
air operations in Afghanistan have kept
deployed French air force Mirages,
Rafales and Super-Etendards busy on
a drop off mode, everything changed
in early 2011 when the French Rafales
succesfully carried out a series of preci-
sion attacks on Colonel Gaddafis forces
in Libya. The Arme de lAirs Rafales
conducted, as early as March 19, 6- to
7-hour, pre-strike reconnaissance mis-
sions along the Libyan coastline from
their home base in Metropolitan France,
assisted by Mirage F1CRs used to collect
specific photographic target confirma-
tions. Then a night later, Mirage 2000D
fighter-bombers and Rafales struck tar-
gets deep inside Libya, assisted by United
States and the United Kingdom.
With the delivery of the 100th Rafale
scheduled for this summer, Dassault Avia-
tion will reach a landmark in the aircrafts
production order, which so far stands at
190 for the French air force (71 Rafale Cs
and 79 Rafale Bs) and navy (40 Rafale
Ms). Production of the Rafale for the
French forces is secured until 2019 and
is expected to last until 2025. Its lifespan
has been set at 50 years, and current plan
by the French Ministry of Defense is to
equip the navy with 58 Rafale Ms and air
force with 228 Rafale B/Cs. By the end of
this decade, the Rafale will replace all of
the fighter types in service in France (lest
a few remaining hundred Mirage 2000D
fighter-bombers and Mirage 2000-5F
interceptors), and all military aircraft
production in France is now geared to the
Rafale and its systems.
The Rafale has been produced in three
standards: the F1 for the French navy
from mid-2004 10 aircraft plus 3 for
the French air force now retrofitted to
F3 standard also called Tranche 1; F2
for the French air force and navy from
mid-2006 48 aircraft since retrofitted
to F3 standard also called Tranche 2;
and F3 for the French air force and navy
since mid-2008 59 aircraft still in the
process of delivery also called Tranche
3; with 60 more to be delivered under
Tranche 4 (described as F3+) with series
production Thales RBE2/AA active elec-
tronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
This summer, the French navy will
muster two flottilles of Rafales (12F
and 11F) operating from the aircraft car-
rier Charles-de-Gaulle; and the Air Force
a total of four squadrons EC 1/7, EC
Rafale in C
French Air Force Dassault Rafales,
pictured at the Solenzara air base
flightline in Corsica, are armed and
ready to depart for Libyan airspace.
All carry a pair of 580-gallon drop
tanks for their 6- to 7-hour sorties.
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www.avionicstoday.com July 2011 Avionics Magazine 21
1/91 and ETR 2/92 at Saint Dizier air
base in France, and EC 3/30 at Al Dhafra
air base in the UAE. ECE 5/330 at Mont-
de-Marsan is a further test squadron used
for the permanent evaluation and updat-
ing of the Rafales systems and weapons.
In 2012, a fifth Rafale squadron will be
commissioned at Mont-de-Marsan, EC
2/30. Current plans call for the air force to
fly three flottilles of Rafale Ms after 2015
and air force some 10 squadrons by 2020.
This year, 94 aircraft will be retrofit-
ted to the F3 standard. Next standard of
Rafale, now in early production, will be
called F3+ (or F3-04T) and will include
the Thales RBE2/AA AESA radar, a
360 threat detector (MBDAs missile
approach warning system) and a frontal
sector optics set (Sagems FSO-IT), all
designed to improve data fusion and situ-
ational awareness.
Our aim is to keep the Rafale at
top level of performance and interoper-
ability. As it is set today, the aircrafts
architecture and platform show that the
Rafale will not need any further hardware
changes before its mid-life update which
should take place around 2025. However
a detailled roadmap for the aircraft still
has to be built, said IGA Stphane Reb,
the Rafale program manager at the Direc-
tion Gnrale de lArmement (DGA),
the French Procurement Agency. Fur-
ther equipments are being developed to
increase the Rafales lethality.
Topics under scrutiny include the inte-
gration of the MBDA Meteor supersonic
BVR air-to-air missile in 2018 and the
laser-guided version of the Sagem Arme-
ment Air-Sol Modulaire (AASM), plus
the development of low collateral dam-
age kinetic bombs; the development by
Thales of a more powerful laser designa-
tion pod; and the adoption of additional
modes for the Thales RBE2/AA AESA
radar, tactical data link 16 upgrades and
electronic warfare suite improvements on
the Spectra system.
Advanced Systems
The 2011 air war operations over Libya
have brought the focus on some of the
Rafales equipment, notably the Thales
Areos advanced digital reconnaisance
pod (known as Reco-NG in France); the
Thales Damocles laser designation pod;
and the Sagem AASM 250-kg INS-guid-
ed rocket bomb.
Thales Areos: See, Decide, Act is
just the basic operational process that
armed forces need to control during war
operations, just as in Libya, where the
risk of civilian collateral damage is pres-
ent. A timely day/night image intelligence
(IMINT) is required to feed correct infor-
mation into the observe, orient, decide
and act (OODA) decision cycle, and it
needs a full IMINT system rather than a
puzzle of isolated equipment specified on
stand alone performance criteria.
The Thales Reco-NG (or Areos for
export, Airborne REconnaissance Obser-
vation System) is a 2,000-pound digital
recce pod designed to be adaptable to
any modern tactical fighter. According to
Thales, it meets the full spectrum of oper-
ational requirements in a broad range of
scenarios and weather conditions because
it integrates digital technology, both in
the sensor/detector solutions and the real
time/non-real time transmission capabil-
ity. It is also interoperable with other
allied nations using STANAG 7023 and
4545 for imagery, and STANAG 7085 for
tactical datas.
Operational on the Rafale since last
December, and after a long debugging
trial period, the French recce nacelle
now used over the Libyan theatre boasts
sophisticated operational automatic
imagery collection modes. It is particu-
larly suited to single-seat aircraft, a fact
which was validated when the system was
first deployed over Afghanistan by the
French navy last December.
Reco-NG/Areos serial production
was launched by the French Ministry
of Defense in 2005 for both the air
force and navy in order to replace the
dedicated Mirage F1CRs of the French
air force and the Super-tendards of the
French navy.
To date 10 pods have been delivered by
Thales to the French amed forces. A total
of 20 pods are on order to equip the air
force (12) and the navy (8) with delivery
ombat
to be completed by the end of next year.
Two were ordered by DGA in 2009, six in
2010, six in 2011, and six will be ordered
next year. According to DGA, Areos
provides day identification capabilities
that are two-and-a-half times better than
those of the Mirage F1CRs Presto wet-
film system and 8 times better than those
of the legacy SDS250 photo pod of the
Super-tendard. Some 20 French pilots
have been qualified on the Reco-NG sys-
tem so far.
Reco-NG/Areos has been designed
to cope with the most stringent require-
ments by coalition and NATO forces
today, from low level, high speed to
medium and high level/long stand off
imagery collection in a single pod.
Among its key features are digital ele-
ments which increase day/night IMINT
collection capabilities at long stand-off
and short ranges; shorten the intelligence
cycle and the operational tempo from
hours to a few minutes with a very accu-
rate target location capability; increase
intelligence timeliness in the theater;
increase flexibility in the operational use
of IMINT collection systems to adapt to
changes in weather conditions or tactical
threats changes during the mission; and
ensure operational/technical interopera-
bility through technical standards agreed
within the international community.
The Reco-NG/Areos pod performanc-
es are based on two day/night sensors.
One sensor for short, medium and long
collection ranges (Dual Band Sensor DB-
STARS, band 2) is integrated in the front
section and one sensor for low level/high
speed imagery (Infra Red Line Scanner
band 3) is integrated in the rear section.
The DB-STARS collects imagery on
large areas with the wide field-of-view
sensors, day and night, and can also
acquire very high resolution imagery with
The long focal lens of the Areos (Reco-
NG) digital reconnaissance pod provides
several gigabytes of high-definition imag-
esthat can be transmitted during flight.
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22 Avionics Magazine July 2011 www.avionicstoday.com
the narrow fields of view. It includes a
video mode to turn around selected
targets and improve their 3-D rendition
on screen.
The images processing tools on board
the Reco-NG nacelle include a user inter-
face that is optimized for a single-seat
platform, the pilot receiving proof of the
pictures snapped by the aircraft directly
in his cockpit head-down display. Using a
specific encrypted radio data link capac-
ity, information can then be selected,
transmitted and exploited in real time.
Finally the IRLS is used to collect in the
same time high resolution imagery on
those selected locations mainly based on
the detection of activity or environment
aspects in the infrared spectrum.
The present Reco-NG/Areos data
link architecture has been designed to
offer a real-time and non-real-time image
transmission capability at Line of Sight
ranges with a 360 coverage, thanks to
the two antennas on the pod extremeties.
The specific hybrid duplex architecture
integrates two datalinks, one for the link
quality management, one for the imagery
downlinking.
For the post-mission phase, the
French armed forces use SAIM-NG/
MINDS, a Multisensor Multispectral
Image Exploitation System, which is
the main tool for the French intelligence
officer. Designated SAIM-NG, Mobile
Multisensor Image Exploitation Ground
System Nouvelle Gnration, it uses
near real-time acquisition units, very
large data base management, data pro-
cessing, including fusion and decision
aiding tools, and communication net-
works. The SAIM/SAIM-NG system is
operational in the French air force, navy
and army. Initially defined for the specific
use of manned reconnaissance sensors,
SAIM is now more and more used for the
exploitation of UAV and battle field MTI
and SAR surveillance systems.
Thales Damocles: Delivered just in
time for the air operations in Libya,
the Damocles targeting pod, designed
by Thales, is an updated variant of the
Damocles nacelle used on the Mirage
2000-9, the Super-tendard Modernis,
the Sukhoi 30MKM, the Tornado IDS
and the Mirage F1M. It is a multi-func-
tion, 525-pound targeting pod compatible
with existing and future weapons systems.
It is comparable to the Lockheed Martin
Sniper AN/AAQ-33 or the Northrop
Grumman Litening AN/AAQ-28(V).
Equipped with an eye-safe laser range-
finder, it is fully operational in all weather
conditions, on all sorts of theatres and
benefits from a modular design for future
upgrade, according to Thales. If the first
10 nacelles were purchased in 2010 under
a crash program, some 20 more are on
order to equip the Arme de lAir and the
Aronavales Rafales.
Main feature of the Damocles is an
advanced STANAG 3733-compatible
technology nacelle featuring a staring
array detector in the spectral band 3 to 5
m, robust tracking systems, image pro-
cessing and 3-D location and laser spot
detection. Its powerful laser and high res-
olution imagery provide the Rafale with
a long stand-off range and fair tactical
ground/air defence system survivability.
Its main functions are for air-to-
ground strike and reconnaissance, but
it can also be used for air-to-air optical
surveillance and day/night visual air-
borne target identification. Damocles is
compatible with laser guided weapons,
INS/GPS guided missiles and imagery-
guided weapons and allows attacks in
autonomous or cooperative mode, using
an integrated laser spot tracker. Its high
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The Thales Damocles targeting pod,
pictured here installed under the star-
board air intake of a Rafale, provides
a long stand-off range and fair tactical
ground/air defence system survivability.
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www.avionicstoday.com July 2011 Avionics Magazine 23
ADVERTISING
SALES REPS
Tish Drake
Publisher/East Coast Sales
T: 800-325-0156
E-mail:
tdrake@accessintel.com
Susan Joyce
West Coast/
International Sales Manager
T: 480-607-5040
Cell: 303-641-5505
E-mail:
sjoyce@accessintel.com
laser energy and high resolution
laser imagery provides long secu-
rity range and high level of surv-
ability. It can be used for battle
damage assessment at long range
and includes target recognition
capability, 3-D localisation and
integrated navigation FLIR.
Thirty Rafale F3s have
been retroftted with the Thales
NextW@ve TRA 6034 VHF/
UHF secure radios. The SDR-
architected radio covers 30 to
600 MHz for full joint/combined
operations. It supports voice, data
(EPM 250 kbits/s) and imagery.
These radios are used in conjuc-
tion with the L3 Rover video sys-
tem required by CAS operations
in Afghanistan. Compatible with
current NATO and national standards,
the radio is claimed to meet the dual
challenges of enhanced interoperability
across the VHF/UHF spectrum and the
new requirements of Network Centric
Warfare.
Sagem AASM: In the face of wretched
Libyan Air Force aerial operations,
most of the aircraft destroyed by French
military aircraft so far have been pinned
on the ground with bombs, specifically
the AASM, a stand-off precision guided
munition (PGM) system using both GPS
and inertial guidance. Developers said
it fills the capability gap between laser-
guided bombs with limited range and
requiring continuous laser illumination
towards the target and more expensive
cruise missiles that provide longer range.
A new French smart weapon used
for the very first time in Afghanistan in
2007, the AASM is also designated Smart
Bomb Unit SBU-38 Hammer
by NATO.
For us, the SBU-38 Ham-
mer is primarily an exceptional
all-weather precision guided
munition. Secondly, it is a
fantastic tool to strike several
targets in a single pass, said
a French commandant com-
manding the third escadrille
(Br 66) of the Saint-Dizier-
based EC 1/91 Gascogne.
The major advantage we
now have with this French-
designed PGM is that it is
both a powered and a manu-
vrable bomb. We can launch
it in a clearly stand-off mode
and completely off-boresight.
On top of that, we can attack
static targets with extreme final precision,
thanks to the precise coordinates of their
last position we now get on our ATO
(air-task order) or in-flight through Link
16 via the pre-strike recce information we
obtain from our Rafale colleagues that
use the Reco-NG pod. This in pure tradi-
tional sensor-to-shooter mode, under day
or night conditions. And this represents
really a big advantage when we need to
strike time sensitive ground targets.
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The Sagem AASM, shown
here during an April launch test
of the laser-guided variant,
is the third version of the
baseline SBU-38 AASM.