There have been numerous announcements regarding the selection and procurement of combat aircraft in 2022. Two aircraft dominated the headlines this year: the French Rafale and the American F-35. The political implications of technical-military selection criteria are being debated.
Modern combat aircraft evaluation, like that of other complex platforms such as air defence systems, necessitates a comprehensive strategy that considers military, technological, and political factors. Consider the rivalry between the Rafale and the F-35 as an example of this type of competition.
Lockheed Martin F-35
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft designed for air superiority and strike missions. It can also conduct electronic warfare as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations.
After first flying in 2006, the first production F-35s were delivered to the US Marine Corps in July 2015, the US Air Force in August 2016, and the US Navy in February 2019. Israeli military pilots were the first to use the plane in combat in 2018.
The United States collaborates on the design and production of the F-35 with seven other countries: the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The US decided to sever ties with Turkey in 2020 after Ankara purchased S-400 air defence systems from Russia, resulting in the country’s removal as a program partner.
Avionics and Cockpit Systems
The panoramic cockpit display system was designed by L-3 Display Systems, which is now a division of L3Harris. It consists of two 0.25m x 0.22m active-matrix liquid crystal displays and a display management computer.
Before the landing gear, there are two parallel compartments for weaponry. Each weapons bay has two hard points for various missiles and explosives.
Internal carriage is required for the JDAM (joint direct attack munition), the CBU-105 WCMD (wind-corrected munitions dispenser) for the sensor-fused weapon, the JSOW (joint stand-off weapon), the Paveway IV guided bombs, the small diameter bomb (SDB), the AIM-120C AMRAAM air-to-air missile, and the Brimstone anti-armor missile.
External transportable cruise missiles include the JASSM (joint air-to-surface stand-off missile), AIM-132 ASRAAM, AIM-9X Sidewinder, and Storm Shadow.
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The single-seat fighter was officially named the F-35 Lightning II in July 2006. The F-35 is available in three variants: conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) F-35A, short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B, and carrier-based F-35C. (CV).
Dassault Aviation’s Rafale is a twin-jet combat aircraft capable of both short- and long-range missions. It can be used for reconnaissance, high-precision strikes, land and sea attacks, and nuclear strike deterrence. The aircraft was intended for use by the French Navy and Air Force.
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Cockpit and Avionics
In the cockpit, the throttle and stick are operated manually (HOTAS). Thales Avionique has installed in the cockpit a heads-up, wide-angle holographic display that displays flight information, mission information, and fire cues.
Rafale aircraft weapons
Rafale can transport payloads weighing more than 9 tonnes thanks to 14 hardpoints on the airforce version and 13 on the navy variant. Air-to-air missiles Mica, Magic, Sidewinder, ASRAAM, and AMRAAM; air-to-ground missiles Apache, AS30L, ALARM, HARM, Maverick, and PGM100; and anti-ship missiles Exocet/AM39, Penguin 3, and Harpoon comprise the arsenal. The MBDA (formerly Aerospatiale) ASMP stand-off nuclear missile can be delivered for a strategic mission by a Rafale aircraft. In December 2004, the MBDA Storm Shadow / Scalp EG stand-off cruise missile was certified for use on the Rafale.
In September 2005, the MBDA Meteor BVRAAM beyond visual range air-to-air missile made its first flight on a Rafale fighter. In December 2005, the Exocet, Scalp-EG, Mica, ASMP-A (to replace the ASMP), and Meteor missiles flew successfully from the Charles de Gaulle.
The Rafale launched the first Sagem AASM precision-guided bomb, which includes GPS/inertial guidance and, optionally, imaging infrared terminal guidance, in April 2007. Rafale aircraft have been outfitted with AASMs since 2008. The Rafale can carry six AASM missiles, each with a 10m accuracy goal.
Countermeasure and sensor technology
Rafale employs the Thales Spectra electronic warfare system. Spectra include solid-state transmitter technology, a DAL laser warning receiver, missile warning, detection systems, and jammers.
The Rafale multirole combat fighter includes the Thales-developed RBE2 passive electronically scanned radar, which has look-down and shoot-down capabilities. The radar can detect and prioritize threats while simultaneously tracking up to eight targets.
|Max speed:||1,930 kph (1,199 mph)||2,225 kph (1,383 mph)|
|Range:||2,220 km (1,379 mi)||3,700 km (2,299 mi)|
|Ceiling:||15,240 m (50,000 ft)||15,835 m (51,952 ft)|
|g limits:||+9.0||+9 −3.6 (+11 in emergencies)|
|Fuel Capacity:||8,278 kg (18,250 lb)||4,700 kg (10,362 lb)|
Lockheed Martin F-35
The F119-derived Pratt & Whitney F-135 low-bypass enhanced turbofan engine powers all three versions.
BAE Systems provides two full authority digital electronic control (FADEC) systems for each engine. The transmission is provided by Hamilton Sundstrand.
The F-35B’s STOVL propulsion is provided by the connection between the engine and a lift fan system driven by a shaft. Rolls-Royce Defence’s counter-rotating lift fan produces over 9071 kg (20,000 lb) of thrust. When the fin spins up and provides a vertical lift, doors above and below the fan open.
The exhaust nozzle can rotate on three bearings on the main engine. The nozzle, vertical lift fan, and two roll control ducts on the inboard wing all work together to provide the necessary STOVL capability.
The Rafale is powered by two SNECMA M88-2 engines, each with a thrust of 75kN. For buddy-buddy refueling, the aircraft has a fly refueling hose reel and drogue pack. The first M88 engine was delivered in 1996. Twin-shaft bypass turbofan engines are best suited for low-altitude penetration and high-altitude interception missions.
The M88 is outfitted with cutting-edge technologies such as single-piece bladed compressor discs (blisks), an on-polluting combustion chamber, single-crystal high-pressure turbine blades, powder metallurgy discs, ceramic coatings, and composite materials.
A single-stage cooled HP turbine, a single-stage cooled LP turbine, a radial A/B chamber, a variable-section convergent flap-type nozzle, a three-stage LP compressor with an inlet guiding vane, and full authority digital engine control comprise the M88 engine (FADEC).
Furthermore, Messier-“jumping” Dowty’s landing gear is designed to spring out when the aircraft is propelled by the nose gear strut.
So who is the winner?
The two planes are in fierce competition. The F-35, on the other hand, has an advantage over the Rafale because it is a stealth aircraft. Despite the planes’ stealth technology, the advantage is in spotting the target because both planes use identical AAM and AGM missiles and their radars are at the same level.
Another possibility is financial! the Rafale more costly than the F35
Despite being more advanced and slightly heavier, the F-35 is less expensive to acquire due to economies of scale and more efficient production; the aircraft sells for around $140 million for export, whereas the Rafale has sold for around $245 million per airframe.
Every contract for which Rafale competed with the F-35 in developed economies was lost. To be honest, it’s difficult to choose between the two, but depending on one’s needs, things can be narrowed down.
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