From July 27 to August 27, 2008, four twin-seat Rafale fighters from French air force Squadron 1/7, “Provence”, based at Saint-Dizier, conducted this aircraft’s first operational exercise in the United States. The aim of this trip was to compare the aircraft’s operating experience, especially during foreign deployment missions, with the requirements of weapon systems used by other air forces. After a transatlantic ferry flight via the Azores, and a stopover in Bangor, Maine, the four Rafales touched down at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona on July 28. The squadron exchange at Luke AFB was very successful, meeting both human and tactical objectives and enabling the crews to get to know each other. Rafale fighters conducted simulated combats with the F-16s. According to Matt Spears, an F-16 pilot with the USAF’s 309th Fighter Squadron, “It was an amazing opportunity, and I was very impressed by the capabilities of the aircraft.” Since Luke AFB is the training base for USAF units, all squadrons passing through will learn about the Rafale’s performance capabilities. This should facilitate teamwork during combined operations.
From August 7 to 22, the aircraft moved to Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas, for the Red Flag war gaming exercise, involving the air forces of several allied countries. The exercise had been planned for a year and a half, and is designed to enhance interoperability. The French air force has been a regular participant in Red Flag exercises since 1981, sending all fighter types to take part. This year, in addition to the American F-15 and F-16 fighters, there were also Sukhoi-30MKIs from India and F-15Ks from South Korea.
Red Flag is organized by the 414th combat training squadron, nicknamed “Red Flag”, and simulates situations very close to actual combat, in particular with the use of live munitions for certain “attacks”. In a typical exercise, “Blue Air” (friend) engages “Red Air” (foe) under realistic combat conditions. Each engagement involves 40 to 60 aircraft, covering all mission aspects, and focusing on progressive levels and density: different threats, from the least to the most sophisticated; and a theater saturated with surface-to-air and air-to-air threats, pushing aircraft to operate at their limits.
Two French air force twin-seat Rafales during Red Flag 08-4 at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
Deployed solely in the “Blue Air” forces, the Rafale participated in all major missions. Crews were designated as “mission commander” several times. The French detachment participated in at least one day strike and one night strike daily, for a period of ten days, confirming the aircraft’s complete range of capabilities and its multirole design. Operating in a dense, hostile environment, the aircraft’s systems provided pilots with a clear, precise view of the tactical situation. The multi-sensor data fusion system (RBE2 radar, Front Sector Optronic (FSO), Spectra self defense suite, Link 16 datalink) worked perfectly. Thanks to this system, the Rafale amply proved its self-defense capabilities. It experienced no losses due to air defense systems, and was often able to eliminate these threats.
Operational scenarios provided for the simultaneous use of MBDA Mica EM and IR air-to-air missiles, Sagem Défense Sécurité AASM guided weapons and MBDA Scalp cruise missiles. American observers were impressed by the accuracy of the AASM weapons. Each aircraft can simultaneously engage six targets over an extended area, with each bomb having its own ballistics and target coordinates.
The Rafale fighters used the Link-16 datalink network for allied aircraft. This technology ensures Rafale’s interoperability with other weapon systems, in particular for a balanced allocation of firing plans between the different aircraft. Since all possible scenarios are recorded on the ground, if one Rafale does not hit its target another one can take over to complete the mission.
Capabilities to be discovered
The French squadron’s logistics information was networked with the base at Saint-Dizier. Two encrypted communications systems, Arpagon and Amasis, sent updated technical data for each aircraft back to France. In fact, throughout the service life of the aircraft, this setup will offer enhanced traceability of all spare parts used. Furthermore, it will decrease maintenance costs because parts will only be changed when strictly necessary.
All French pilots were proud of being able to present a latest-generation aircraft which is still at the beginning of its career, and whose full range of capabilities has yet to be discovered.
Source: Dassault Aviation
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