Rafale - Catch Me If You Can

Issue: 8 / 2008

Combining the dual strengths of speed and subterfuge, the Rafale’s systems—equipped with the SPECTRA—have set new standards in low-observability and survivability

In modern air-warfare, survivability is the key to combat effectiveness. Pitted against the latest threats, the Rafale fighter is well-equipped to slip undetected through dense air-defence networks and survive.


A low-observable aircraft, the twin-engine fighter’s systems have set new standards in low-observability and survivability. Every effort has been made by Dassault engineers to minimise its infrared and radar signatures. The objective was not to make the aircraft undetectable or to match the Radar Cross Section (RCS) of the F-117 or B-2, but to significantly reduce the detection and tracking range of hostile air-defences. Accordingly, the airframe has been carefully shaped to cut down its RCS. Other signature reduction measures include state-of-the-art Radar-Absorbing Materials in various areas of the airframe, sawtooth edges on the foreplanes, on the flaperons and on some access panels and doors, specially treated canopy, plus ‘double-S’ shaped airintake ducts to hide the engine compressor faces. Thanks to the Hot Spot treatment, infrared signature is minimised, and the Snecma M88 turbofans have been optimised to limit infrared detectability.

Low-observability is not the only way to boost survivability. As radar and radio emissions can betray the position of a fighter, the designers have adopted for the Rafale a wide range of unique passive sensors and missiles: the passive Front Sector Optronics used in conjunction with the longrange, infrared-guided Mica IR missile gives Rafale pilots unprecedented capabilities, allowing totally silent interceptions to be performed, especially when accurate targeting data is received via a datalink. Additionally, radar emissions can be carefully controlled, and emission limitations can even be programmed on a data transfer cartridge before the mission.

The Rafale is fitted with a discrete terrain avoidance/following system optimised to improve survivability while flying at extremely low altitude and very high speed. For threat avoidance, the Thales/MBDA SPECTRA Electronic Warfare Suite is capable of accurately localising airborne systems and targeting enemy Surfaceto-Air radar emitters.