The French Defense Procurement Agency (DGA) has placed an order for 42 Rafale F4 combat aircraft, to be destined for the French Air and Space Force (AAE).
“This investment of more than €5 billion will irrigate many territories,” declared Sébastien Lecornu, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, adding that it will secure over 7,000 jobs in more than 400 companies in France.
“[France’s] military industrial sovereignty is an exception in Europe,” commented Éric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation. “It guarantees the superiority of our combat aviation. It is also an asset for diplomatic influence and an economic strength in export trade.”
This order is intended to close the capacity gap created by the sale of 24 second-hand aircraft to Greece and Croatia in recent years. It was originally expected to be placed in 2023, with the aircraft delivered between 2027 and 2030.
Addressing the challenges currently faced by the French Air Force, Parliament member Frank Giletti revealed in a report that French fighter pilots were projected to fly only 147 hours in 2023, falling below NATO standards of a minimum of 180 flight hours per combat pilot annually. Giletti emphasized the detrimental impact of this deficit given the current strategic context demanding heightened operational readiness.
The French Ministry of the Armed Forces attributed the shortfall to aircraft availability, citing the sale-export of Rafales to Croatia as a limiting factor. Deputy Chief of Staff Frederic Parisot had previously warned of the training shortage extending for two years, contingent on timely deliveries of future orders.
What is the Dassault Rafale F4?
The first Rafale F4 arrives in Mont-de-Marsan (French Air and Space Force)
The F4 standard, with a focus on connectivity, air combat, and electronic warfare capabilities, is currently being developed and will be deployed through 2025.
As explained by the French Ministry of Armed Forces, this standard includes the integration of the Contact radio, the MICA NG missile (new generation) and the Digital Autonomous Jammer (BAN) integrated into the Rafale’s SPECTRA self-protection system.
The French Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) qualified the F4.1 standard for the Rafale fighter on March 13, 2023.
Over time, every Rafale in the French Air and Space Force and Navy will be retrofitted to this new standard.
The French Air Force is already outlining the requirements for the F5 standard, which will further enhance the Rafale’s connectivity.
“When the F5 standard comes out, the plane will be very different,” explained General Stéphane Mille, the French Air Force Chief of Staff, in a parliamentary hearing. “The computing capacities to process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information require wiring that the Rafale as we know it today is not capable of supporting.”