All aircraft will be retrofitted to the new standard while the future F4 upgrade is already in development
The French Air Force announced that the Dassault Rafale F3-R, the latest upgrade of the aircraft, achieved the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) on Dec. 6, 2019. The milestone was reached after several months of training after the delivery of the first Rafale F3-R at the end of 2018 and the official acceptation into service in July 2019.
The Rafale F3-R includes some major enhancements like the new Thales RBE2 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, the Spectra (Système de Protection et d’Évitement des Conduites de Tir du Rafale or, in English, Self-Protection Equipment Countering Threats to Rafale Aircraft) electronic warfare system, an Auto-GCAS (Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System) and the new laser-guided variant if the Sagem AASM “Hammer” (Armement Air-Sol Modulaire “Highly Agile Modular Munition Extended Range”). In early 2020 the Rafale will also receive the MBDA Meteor missile and the Thales Talios targeting pod.
The French Navy received the first Rafale F3-R in January for testing with the Escadrille CEPA/10S, the Naval Aviation Experimental and Evaluation Centre at Hyères, near Marseilles, and is expected to declare the IOC soon with the Flottille 11F. The Navy will also receive an improved version of the buddy-buddy air-to-air refueling pod.
According to the Directorate General of Armament (DGA), all 144 Rafale aircraft in service in the Air Force will be upgraded to the new standard, which is also the same standard that was adopted for the export version of the Rafale acquired by India, Qatar and Egypt.
The upgrade took into account also the operational feedback from pilots and maintainers, especially for the AASM and the interoperability with other assets. The Rafale F3-R is currently the only European fighter with an operational AESA radar, as the AESA-equipped Saab Gripen E is still being tested and the Captor-E radar for the Eurofighter Typhoon has not been ordered yet by the four partner nations (Italy, UK, Germany and Spain).
Meanwhile, Dassault is already working on the new F4 upgrade, launched at the end of 2018, with further enhancements to sensors and connectivity. The validation of the new upgrade is expected in 2024 and will provide a development step towards the technologies for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS)/ Système de Combat Aérien Futur (SCAF) program.