When it entered service in 2002 within the 12F flotilla of the naval aeronautics to replace its antediluvian F-8F Crusader, the first Rafale Marine 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 versions were at the heart of the strategy pursued by the Ministry of Defense and Team Rafale . This is how in 2005, the Air Force began to receive its first Rafale B and C with F2 standard, specialized in Air-Ground strikes to replace the withdrawal of the Franco-British SEPECAT Jaguars, followed in 2009 of 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 carried from 2018. Now, Dassault Aviation and the Rafale team are 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 aircraft. 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 manner offers numerous advantages, both from an operational point of view and from an industrial and commercial point of view. Firstly, this effectively allows devices to avoid obsolescence, with regular developments every five years offering new capabilities adapted to evolving threats and needs. This is how the upcoming 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 aircraft to changes in means available to potential adversaries of France and its clients. It is also in no way 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 aiming for the F4 version. , attesting to the accuracy of this industrial and operational strategy followed by Dassault and the French air forces.
In addition, this approach offers numerous 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 expected to evolve every 5 years, this solution allows the manufacturer and its subcontractors to secure the sustainability of their production tool over the long term. While a change of version represents an industrial investment equivalent to 20% of the production of a new device, a fleet of 450 devices will ultimately 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 park of 30 to 40 years. This visibility also allows manufacturers to plan securely over time the amortization of their investments in terms of infrastructure, production equipment and also labor, thereby improving the budgetary performance of the program. Speaking as part of the 2023 Finance Bill before the National Assembly, the Chief of Staff of the Navy, Admiral Pierre Vandier, announced that he intended, in the future, take inspiration from this recurring evolutionary approach for its own ships.
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