The functions of the Rafale F5 Neuron pair were clarified by the French Ministry of the Armed Forces in a written response given to the question of an opposition MP, in particular with regard to the elimination of enemy anti-aircraft defenses and access denial systems.
With the withdrawal, at the end of the 1990s, of the last Jaguars equipped with the anti-radiation air-to-ground missile (understand a missile capable of tracking the emissions of an opposing radar to destroy it) AS 37 Martel, the French air forces lost their last specialized capability in the elimination of opposing anti-aircraft defenses, a mission designated by the English acronym SEAD for Suppression of Enemy Air Defense.
French air forces lost their SEAD capabilities in 1997
With the disappearance of the Soviet bloc, and its very powerful multi-layer anti-aircraft defenses, the French authorities had, in fact, considered that this type of capacity was now superfluous, especially with the arrival of the Rafale and its self-protection system. SPECTRA designed to jam and decoy enemy radars, as well as precision and/or long-range munitions, such as the SCALP cruise missile or the A2SM propelled bomb.
From then on, while the dominant ideology was based on the benefits of peace, the need to have significant resources dedicated to the SEAD mission seemed to belong to the past, in the face of the mainly asymmetrical engagements in which the French air forces participated, such as in Afghanistan or Iraq.
The fact is, the calculation of the French authorities was not devoid of meaning, the Rafale having notably shown itself capable of operating above Libyan soil and the anti-aircraft defenses of the troops loyal to General Gaddafi, solely thanks to the performance of the system SPECTRA, while the commitments in Afghanistan, Iraq and, later, Mali, were not to oppose any anti-aircraft defense.
With the rapid rearmament of Russia from the 2000s, the rapid and sustained progress of the Chinese defense industry, and the increasingly aggressive postures of Beijing and Moscow, but also of Tehran and Pyongyang, once again brought the specter of large-scale conflicts from the beginning of the 2010s, and the need for Western air forces to eliminate opposing anti-aircraft defenses in the face of increasingly dense and efficient multi-layer systems.
If certain countries took stock of this need from the beginning of the 2010s, including in Europe with the acquisition of American F-35A stealth fighters and HARM anti-radiation missiles by several Western air forces in Europe and the Pacific, this This was not the case for France, which until a year ago remained reluctant to once again equip its air forces with SEAD capabilities.
The Rafale F5 Neuron couple at the heart of the French LPM 2024-2030
Thus, just a few weeks before the start of the Russian offensive against Ukraine, and the unequivocal demonstration of the performance of modern anti-aircraft systems which came to neutralize the Russian and Ukrainian air forces, the Ministry of the Armed Forces responded to a written question posed by the deputy JC Lagarde, around the opportunity to develop an electronic warfare and SEAD version of the Rafale , in the negative, considering that the French air forces had the necessary range to face all possible scenarios, including in this area .
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