When it entered service in 2002 within the 12F flotilla of naval aviation to replace its antediluvian F-8F Crusader, the first Rafale Marines were delivered to the F1 standard, which then only had air-to-air capabilities. But from the start of the program, the scalability of the device and the planning of the versions were at the heart of the strategy pursued by the Ministry of Defense and Team Rafale. Thus in 2005, the Air Force began to receive its first Rafale B and C to the F2 standard, specialized in Air-Ground strikes to replace the withdrawal of Franco-British SEPECAT Jaguars, followed in 2009 the Rafale F3, capable of carrying out both missions, both for the Rafale B and C of the Air Force and the Rafale M of the French Navy, giving it its status as a multi-role aircraft. Since then, 3 other successive versions have appeared, the F-3O4T then the famous F-3R effectively omnirole and capable of simultaneously carrying out air-air, air-ground, air-surface and reconnaissance missions, and to which the 144 Rafale already delivered to the French air forces were extended from 2018. Dassault Aviation and the Rafale team are now developing the F-4 version, which is due to arrive in 2024 and which will give the aircraft capabilities borrowed from the famous 5th generation of combat, followed in 2030 by the F5 version which should allow the Rafale to control and evolve alongside combat drones.
This management of scalability in a flexible and planned way offers many advantages, both from an operational point of view and from an industrial and commercial point of view. First of all, it effectively allows the devices not to give in to obsolescence, with regular evolutions at a five-year rate offering it new capabilities adapted to the evolution of threats and needs. This is how the future Rafale F4 will receive a new version of its SPECTRA self-defense system, as well as a new MICA NG air-to-air missile, so as to adapt the survivability and lethality of the device to the evolutions of the resources available to potential adversaries of France and its clients. It is also not surprising to note that the first foreign operators of the Rafale, Egypt and Qatar, have also upgraded their Rafale F3 to the F-3R version, while all are now targeting the F4 version. , attesting to the soundness of this industrial and operational strategy followed by Dassault and the French Air Force.
In addition, this approach offers many advantages both from a budgetary point of view and in terms of the competitiveness of the international offer. Indeed, while a majority of the fleet in service is required to evolve every 5 years, this solution allows the manufacturer and its subcontractors to secure the sustainability of its production tool over time. While a change of version represents an industrial investment equivalent to 20% of the production of a new device, a fleet of 450 devices in the long term will generate, over a five-year rate, a production activity equivalent to the annual production of 18 new devices. , i.e. an industrial pace largely sufficient to sustain the industrial tool over the entire operational life of the fleet of 30 to 40 years. This visibility also allows manufacturers to plan the amortization of their investments in terms of infrastructure, production equipment and labor in a secure way over time, thereby improving the program's budgetary performance. Speaking within the framework of the Finance Bill 2023 before the National Assembly, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Pierre Vandier, announced that he intended, in the future, to be inspired by this recurring evolutionary approach for its own ships.
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