What Makes Rafale So Special? (Overview, Specifications, Indian case, it’s Past & Future in India)

By Pratisht Chaudhary

Rafale is an Omni-role aircraft developed by Dassault aviation; it has been in limelight since the day deal for Rafale was signed to the day Rafale landed in Ambala airbase. The Dassault Rafale originally was a result of disagreements, between European countries and France while developing the Euro-fighter typhoon, the France pulled out of the program and started to develop its own jet, which fulfilled the needs of French navy and air force which lead to the creation of Dassault Rafale, in this article we would be discussing overview, specifications and past and future of Rafale in India as well as some details of how Rafale is special in Indian case:-

The Dassault Rafale


the Dassault Rafale is a delta winged aircraft (delta winged refers to triangular shape of wings) with active close couple canards (canards are a sort of small wings which are placed near the cockpit of an aircraft), the canards help the aircraft to become more maneuverable and also helps to control the speed of aircraft by acting as airbrakes, with maximum range of 3700 km’s and maximum speed of 2222 km/hour at high altitude, the aircraft is able to fly at 213 km/h at its minimum speed without stalling, the minimum speed of the aircraft is important for the aircrafts operating from an aircraft carrier and the minimum speed of rafale is enough that it can operate from aircraft carriers like INS Vikramaditya also minimum speed matters when an aircraft has to bombard any particular area by hovering over it (if needed), the less the minimum speed, the more time a pilot gets to deploy its weapon load. The Rafale is capable of tolerating -3.5 g to 11g of force and have 14 hardpoints.

The Radar Cross Section-

The radar cross section(RCS) of an aircraft decides that how vulnerable would be that aircraft to the enemy’s radar’s, therefore it should be less, this was one of the major thing the Indian Air Force was looking in their inventory. The IAF lacked any modern aircraft with less RCS, however the Rafale will fulfill this gap because Rafale is made in such a way that many things are done to reduce its RCS, few of which are listed below-

S-duct air intake-

The air inlets of engine of Rafale have a S-duct air intake (or a S-shaped air inlet), this is done to hide the engine blades of the aircraft from enemies Radar waves, because most chances of detection of an aircraft are from the aircraft’s engine blades which majorly reflect the enemy’s radar waves.

The S-Duct Inlet, See The S- Shape Of Inlet To Hide Engine Blades!

Major changes in structure during developmental Era- When the aircraft was in developmental stage, many changes were done in it to make it less visible to radar’s for example the size of tail wing of aircraft was reduced, the fuselage was reshaped, the air inlets were moved from belly of the aircraft to below its wing and serrated pattern was used in the aircraft.

The Active stealth technology

So now this is one of Rafale’s most secret technology and a highly debated one too, in active stealth technology the aircraft can make itself invisible to enemies Radar for some time, it in simple words can change a 4th generation fighter to a 5th generation fighter in middle of an operation for some time. The Rafale have SPECTRA EW (Electronic warfare) suite and many people believe that the Active stealth technology is a part of that EW suite only, Active stealth technology uses plasma (a highly ionized gas) to block the incoming Electro-magnetic radar waves of the enemies radar, which is generated by a plasma generating device placed onboard the aircraft, it forms a sort of plasma cloud over aircraft so when the electro-magnetic waves which were heading towards the aircraft by the enemies radar collides with that plasma cloud they either get dispersed or get absorbed, hence aircraft remains undetected. The Active stealth technology of Rafale came into limelight when Rafale performed it’s operation in Libya, and unofficial sources claimed that something was first detected by enemy’s radar there, but then went invisible, however it’s still confidential and debatable whether rafale have such capability or not.


The Rafale have a full glass cockpit, a glass cockpit is one in which all instruments are digital, in Rafale’s cockpit all information is collected from different parts of the aircraft and then pilot is shown a  general/most relevant information and that’s why we say the Rafale’s cockpit is based upon the principle of data fusion, it also have Direct voice input (DVI) which allows pilot to control things like armament selection and deploy counter-measures, however major task like missile firing are done by pilot manually, keeping the safety concerns in mind. The seat is also inclined 29 degrees which makes the pilot to sustain g-force more easily with a modern G-suit, the Indian Rafale’s pilot may use Israeli Dash HMD (Helmet mounted display) as Qatari pilots were doing so.


The Dassault Rafale is powered by SAFRAN Snecma M-88 engines which generate maximum thrust of 75 kN after burner and it have such two engines, the M-88 engines have single crystal turbine blades which reduces the Infrared signature of the aircraft or in simple words it reduces the heat coming out of aircraft hence making it less vulnerable to infrared missiles. the engines can also super cruise without engaging the afterburners, this helps to reduce fuel consumption of the plane in Supersonic speed for example the fuel consumption of M-88 engines without Afterburners in dry thrust mode is 22.14 gram/kN while using afterburners this consumption shots more than twice to 47.12 gram/kN, so you can understand that super cruising ability makes a plane to move fast as well as enable it to cover long distances. The maintenance of engines are so easy that one engine can be replaced in one hour, in 2010 another engine was tested in Rafale which was Snecma M-88 4E, this engine generated better thrust and was even better in maintenance, so it is possible that Indian Rafale’s have these engine’s.

The M-88 Engines Of Dassault Rafale


The best part of any aircraft is it’s armament, Rafale is the only aircraft in the world which can carry 2.5 times the weight of itself, Rafale has14 hard points and is equipped with all types of weapons ranging from BVR’s (Beyond Visual Range) missiles to infrared missiles and to guided/unguided bombs, In BVR’s (Beyond Visual Range) missile this aircraft carry Mica EM which is an active radar homing missile powered by Single pulse solid rocket motor missile having a range of 80 km’s along with this BVR it carries world’s best BVR missile, theMeteorwhich is a SFDR (Solid fuel ducted ramjet) and an active radar homing missile with very high kill probabilityand range of 150 km’s (highest in the world), in air to ground capabilities this aircraft have Scalp as its prior weapon and India purchased this long range air to surface missile with its Rafale’s, Scalp uses inertial guidance and GPS guidance during inertial phase and then during terminal phase it uses infrared  imaging, weighing around 1300 kg’s it can carry a warhead of 450 kg’s with a range of 560 km’s and speed of 1000 km/h, it carries other air to ground weapons like Hammer bombs with 30 mm Giat 30 revolver cannon .

A Fully Armed Rafale With Hammer Bombs, Meteor SFDR And Drop Tanks

The Indian Case-

Rafale alone can’t be a  magic, any instrument if works in isolation is ofno use, but what makes it special for the Indian Armed Forces is that when it would be complimented with Sukhoi, it will be a game changer for Indian Armed forces, see Rafale is a Omni- role fighter but because of its small RCS and stealthy features, the fighter become a perfect  raider/ strike aircraft  and it is no less in BVR (beyond visual range) combat capabilities with its air to air missiles like meteor, while Sukhoi is a Super maneuverable air dominance fighter, it lacks the stealth abilities and hence are easily detected by enemy radar’s also Sukhoi has few constraints in BVR capabilities however it is an excellent dogfighter  with its Thrust vectoring system,   and when integrated with Astra missile, the Sukhoi’s BVR capabilities increases by many folds . The Rafale with Scalp and Sukhoi with BrahMos is the best air to surface attack combo any country can imagine, also sources said that Indian Rafale’s had some ‘special specifications’ and were molded according to the needs of Indian air force and this will be followed by the Sukhoi upgrade to Super Sukhoi which  in future.

Excellent Image Of Power And Variety In Indian Air Force

Past and Future of Rafale jets in India!

India originally planned to buy 126 Rafale along with its benefits like creation of jobs and TOT (Transfer of technology) but then the Government at that time kept negotiating with France over the issue and results were inconclusive, but then deal of 36 Rafale was signed by Modi government with some benefits like in armament and maintaince however many indications are coming that deal for another 36 Rafale would be signed, hence 72 Rafale in total.

Why only 36 more Rafale?

The number of 72 rafale is what IAF really needs at the moment, also IAF chief said that ‘indigenization is top-most priority of IAF however if we bought a large number of Rafale, India can get dependent on France because there’s nothing like 100% TOT and India would not like to commit same mistakes as it did with USSR/Russia.

What about 126 Rafale’s, jobs and TOT’s?

The deal for 126 Rafale was planned underMMRCA (Medium multi role combat aircraft) tender or which can be also called as MRCA (multi role combat aircraft) tender, this tender was started in 2007 and 114 jets were meant to be procured for Indian Air force and Dassault Rafale was winning this tender, but it was also scrapped along with plan of 126 Rafale deal, so the Modi government launched the tender again, now known as MMRCA 2.0, and the jets competing for that are Su-35, F-15 ex, Saab Griphen, Dassault  Rafale, Mig-35, Boeing F/A-18, F-21 and Eurofighter typhoon, however the major problems that came in this tender/deal werecost, technological  aspectsand geo-politics, all this combined are delaying this deal and had made this tender to be scrapped once. It is possible that this deal will go inconclusive again, as once CDS general Bipin Rawat said that Indian armed forces will avoid buying equipment’s in bulk’.


Rafale F-3 with no doubt is the best aircraft of Indian subcontinent, and IAF’s inventory, however Sukhoi-Rafale combo is what will be a game changer, by now you might have become aware of Rafale’s capabilities and how its combination with Sukhoi’s will lead to a complete domination of Indian Air Force in air to air as well as air to ground capabilities, a jet with great BVR capabilities and a jet born as a dogfighter, BrahMos with Scalp are the keywords, additional order of 126 Rafale is a sort of imagination but the order for more 36 Rafale F-4 have much higher probability as France was also trying to pursue that order, all of these combined will give a special capabilities and advantage to Indian Air Force.

An article by Pratisht Chaudhary

You can also watch an interview with a well decorated IAF officer on Rafale.

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