The RAFALE, a fully “OMNIROLE” fighter, is available in three variants:
All three variants share a common airframe and a common mission system, the differences between naval and land versions being mainly limited to the undercarriage and to the arresting hook.
The RAFALE is in production, with 100 Aircraft already delivered out of 180 ordered by the French MoD. By the end of 2010, 38 RAFALE B and 24 RAFALE C had been accepted by the French Air Force, and 31 RAFALE M by the French Navy.
Four batches of 13, 48, 59 and 60 Aircraft have been ordered, totaling 132 Aircraft for the French Air Force (63Bs and 69Cs) and 48 Ms for the French Navy.
Capabilities are developed incrementally, and released in packages (“standards”). The first release (standard F1) featured only air-to-air capabilities. It became operational in 2004 with the French Navy on RAFALEs launched from the “Charles de Gaulle” during operation “Enduring Freedom”.
The second capability release (standard F2) entered service in the French Air Force and in the French Navy in 2006. It provided the RAFALE with its true “OMNIROLE” capability for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
Standard F3 (now F3.2) is the current release. It has been qualified by the French MoD in 2008. It adds air reconnaissance with the AREOS recce pod, anti-ship with the AM39 EXOCET (implemented in RAFALE B, C, and M), and the nuclear capability with the ASMPA. The first RAFALE F3 was delivered to the French Air Force Operational Evaluation Centre (CEAM) in mid-2008 at Mont-de-Marsan AFB, in full accordance with the contracted delivery schedule.
The French Air Force first operational RAFALE squadron, EC 1/7 “Provence”, has been stationed at Saint-Dizier air base since 2006. The second FAF fighter squadron equipped with RAFALE, EC 1/91 “Gascogne”, was officially re-created at St-Dizier in March 2009. In October 2010, it was followed by ETR 2/92 “Aquitaine”, a joint Air Force / Navy unit that will now handle all aircrew training. In November 2010, EC 3/30 “Lorraine” has been re-created at Al Dhafra air base, in the United Arab Emirates, with Al Dhafra becoming effectively a forward operating base for RAFALE fighters.
The RAFALE has been subjected to thorough evaluations by several air forces with very positive results. It has been successfully involved in numerous multinational exercises: Red Flag, ATLC, Tiger Meet, Garuda…the RAFALE M is the only non-U.S. type of fighter cleared to operate from the decks of U.S. carriers, using their catapults and their arresting gear, as demonstrated in 2008 when six RAFALEs from flottille “12F” seamlessly integrated into the USS “Theodore Roosevelt” carrier air wing during JTFEX, a massive interoperability /graduation exercise organized by the U.S. Navy prior to an operational deployment. During this exercise, the RAFALE demonstrated full interoperability with U.S. and allied, air and naval units, as it was widely underlined by the U.S. Navy.