Thursday, November 30, 2023

LPM 2023: Stealth drone or electronic warfare Rafale , one of the two will be needed

To engage over a highly contested theater of operations, the French air forces have a very efficient aircraft, the Rafale from Dassault Aviation. Through its ability to operate at high speed at very low altitude, the French aircraft can in fact take advantage of terrain masking to avoid radar detection, at least as far as land radars are concerned. In addition, the aircraft has a reduced radar signature, without being described as stealthy, even if this characteristic tends to fade when the Rafale carries several cans of fuel and missiles or bombs on pylons. The aircraft also has a highly advanced self-protection system, SPECTRA, capable of containing the threat coming from both radar and infrared guided missiles. Finally, it uses so-called “stand-off” munitions, such as the SCALP cruise missile or the A2SM guided glide bomb, designed to be dropped at a safe distance from the target, and thus avoid Ground-Air responses. What's more, the system proved itself in combat in 2011, when French Rafale seized the Libyan skies above Benghazi, while the opposing DCA was still active.

However, if the Rafale is capable of confronting SA-6 and SA-8 dating from the 1970s as in Libya, and if it is probable that it is even capable of confronting a perfectly modern S-400 battery, the aircraft is not designed, like all aircraft of its generation, to penetrate a modern multi-layer anti-aircraft defense like those implemented by Russia or China, made up of ground radars and airborne systems of different frequency and power, long, medium, short and very short range ground-air systems, all acting in a coordinated manner. Faced with such a threat, neither radada (very low altitude flight), nor Spectra nor the radar discretion of the Rafale will be any match, and we can even doubt that a stealth aircraft like the F-35 can do it. due to the accelerated entry into service of low frequency radar. In this context, how can the French armies preserve their maneuvering and strike capabilities to support land and naval action, or to strike the opposing force in depth in order to disrupt its logistics and command?

rafale low Analyzes Defense | Fighter aircraft | Awacs and electronic warfare
Flight at very low altitude and high speed allows the Rafale to remain out of range of ground radars, but not airborne radars

Meeting this challenge requires having at least one of three types of suitable equipment. On the one hand, it is possible to rely on ballistic strike or cruise missile capabilities, the subject having been covered in part in a previous article . However, this solution is expensive and unsuitable for long-term military actions, as evidenced by the exhaustion of Russian stocks in Ukraine. If it is already difficult to produce artillery shells at a rate sufficient to compensate for their use on the ground, it is impossible to do the same with missiles costing several million dollars each, each requiring several weeks to several months to be assembled. This capacity has an obvious benefit, but it is, intrinsically, not sufficient to support a high-intensity commitment over time. If the French armies already have equipment of this type, the SCALP and MdCN cruise missiles, the two other solutions which interest us today, a specialized version of the Rafale for Electronic Warfare and the suppression of opposing defenses, and a stealth combat drone model, are absent from its inventories.

A Rafale dedicated to electronic warfare

The suppression of enemy anti-aircraft defenses is not a new subject. During the Cold War, the French Air Force even had squadrons specially trained and equipped for this, with the anti-radiation missile (understand anti-radar, nothing to do with nuclear) AS 37 Martel. However, this capacity was abandoned in 1997, not to be replaced, the General Staff then having to face critical budgetary and capacity decisions which did not cease until recently. However, if the Jaguar and Mirage IIIE of the Cold War were capable of carrying out SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) missions, they pale in comparison to the two aircraft specialized in this mission implemented by the US Air Force. and the US Navy, the EF-111a Raven and the EA-6B Prowler, respectively. In fact, these aircraft had, in addition to Shrike and then Harm anti-radiation missiles, powerful jammers capable of neutralizing opposing radars over an entire airspace, allowing other aircraft to penetrate and carry out their missions. Their effectiveness was particularly demonstrated during the air campaign against Iraq in 1990, as well as over Serbia and Kosovo a few years later.

Growler Kosovo Defense Analysis | Fighter aircraft | Awacs and electronic warfare
Two EA-6b Prowler taking off from Aviano Air Base in 1999 to protect NATO air forces in the Balkans

LOGO meta defense 70 Analyzes Defense | Fighter aircraft | Awacs and electronic warfare

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Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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