Rafale M: The Omnivorous Fighter “Omnirole” – “Flexibility is the key to airpowersaid the strategic general of 20th century Italian air power. Julien Douhet (1869 – 1930), and it is a principle that is hammered into the minds of young aspiring officers of the United States Air Force from the start of their training phases as cadets at the Air Force Academy and Reserve Officers Training Corps (AFROTC) or as trainees at Officer Training School (OTS).
However, ours is not the only national air force to take General Douhet’s saying to heart. The French Air Force (Armsof air and space) and French naval aviation (Naval Aeronautics Marine Forceor simply Anaval for short) alike embody the Douhet doctrine in the form of the “omnirole” Dassault Rafale (fancy adjective for multirole).
Let’s take a closer look at the Rafale, with a particular focus on the naval variant of the Rafale M.
The Dassault Rafale (literally meaning “gust of wind” and “burst of fire”) series fighters are built by Dassault Aviation SA, which is arguably the oldest name in French military aviation manufacturing, dating back to 1929. As stated by Dassault official information page on the Rafale, “the lessons learned from the last conflicts where air power has been used, can be summarized in four global expectations concerning weapon systems by political decision-makers”, namely versatility, interoperability, flexibility ( General Douhet must smile from heaven at that one), and survivability.
The website elaborates from there:
“The Rafale ‘Omnirole’ combines all these advantages: it is relevant against both conventional and asymmetric threats, it meets the emerging needs of armies in a changing geopolitical context, and it remains at the forefront of technical innovation… Thanks to its versatility, its adaptability and its ability to meet all the requirements of air missions, the Rafale is the transformational “poster-poster” fighter that offers a way forward for air forces faced with the requirement to do “more” with ” less”, in a constantly changing context. strategic and economic environment… Moderate in size, but extremely powerful, superbly agile and very discreet, the latest combat aircraft from Dassault Aviation not only integrates the widest and most modern range of sensors, it also multiplies their effectiveness thanks to a breakthrough technology, “multi-sensor data fusion”.
Thus, Dassault is currently building three variants: the single-seater Rafale C for the Air Force, the two-seater Rafale B for the Air Force and the single-seater Rafale M for the Navy. All variants have the commonality of twin-engine and canard delta wings. There was also the demonstration variant of the Rafale A, which made its maiden flight on July 4, 1986, followed by the Rafale C on May 4, 1991.
Seaborne Rafale M (“aritiime?”)
While my own research has not been able to determine the date of the maiden flight of the naval variant of the Rafale M, I can state that the first two marine warbirds of this type were delivered to Anaval in December 2000. On May 18 of the following year, the aircraft officially became operational with the squadron Flotilla 12F — which had previously operated the American-made F-8 Crusader — and a total of 42 Rafale Ms were delivered to the French Navy.
The M variant, with an empty weight of 10,600 kilograms (23,400 lb), outweighs the Rafale C by about 500 kilograms (1,100 lb) due to the additional reinforcement needed for transport operations. These reinforced features include a reinforced airframe, a longer nose gear to support a more reared up attitude (literally, i.e. not a metaphorical reference to stereotypes of Parisian snobbery), a taller rear hook between the engines, and a last integrated boarding. The aircraft is 15.27 meters (50.1 ft) long, 5.34 meters (17.5 ft) high, 10.80 meters (35.4 ft) wingspan and boasts a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 (1,912 km/h/ 1,188 mph/ 1,032 knots).
The armament consists of a single 30 mm (1.2 in) GIAT 30/M791 autocannon with 125 rounds and 13 hardpoints with a capacity of 9,500 kg (20,900 lb) of ammunition, such as Magic II air-to-air missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II and Mk 82 bombs, the infamous Exocet anti-ship missile… and, in doomsday scenarios, the ASMP-A nuclear missile.
Going back to these principles of versatility, flexibility and interoperability, the Rafale M is the only fighter aircraft of non-American design authorized to operate from the decks of American aircraft carriers, as demonstrated in 2008 during an exercise Franco-American joint naval operation involving the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
Flurries against the Russians?
The Rafale M saw combat, as in 2016, the Rafales operating from the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle struck targets associated with the Islamic State AKA ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. Although, so far, the Rafale has only been used in the air-to-ground role, the imminent specter of an air-to-air engagement against Russian adversaries exists as at least an outside chance. The de Gaullewhich hosts 30 of the Rafale M warbirds, was sent in March this year – shortly after Vladimir Putin began his “special military operation” in Ukraine – in support of NATO Enhanced vigilance activities in the Black Sea region.
Given Putin’s latest provocation in Odessa, which threatens to deepen a global food shortage, time will tell if this escalates into a direct confrontation between Russia and the NATO powers; if the worst comes down to the worst, then the Anaval Rafale pilots could very soon find themselves testing their mettle against their MiG and Sukhoi counterparts. We’ll find out soon enough, for better or for worse. Stay tuned, ladies and gentlemen…
Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments in Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany and the Pentagon). Chris holds a BA in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an MA in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from the American Military University (AMU). It was also published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cybersecurity. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of United States Naval Order (WE).