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Deploying the Dassault Rafale M; Landivisiau, June 8, 2017

The NATO Tiger Meet 2017, part 2; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The Dassault Rafale is the most modern fighter plane of the French Air Force and Navy. The name Rafale literally means "gust of wind" in the French language. The Rafale is a double-engine fighter aircraft with a canard delta wing configuration. The Rafale is built to be multi-role deployable and is able to land on a ship.

The Rafale is a modern fighter plane which performs very well in air combat and it can also be used to attack ground targets. The Rafale derives from a European Program (Future European Fighter Aircraft, FEFA) from the 70s where several countries together wanted to develop a new European fighter plane. France eventually broke out of this program, which led to the development of the Rafale. The EF2000 Eurofighter and the JAS-39 Gripen also are results from this same program. Dassault built a "technology demonstrator" which flew for the first time in July 1986. The Rafale was originally scheduled for service in 1996. The Rafale program, however, suffered from significant delays as a result of the post-Cold War cuts and changes in the French Priorities. The aircraft has been developed in three main variants, namely; the Rafale B dual-seat version for training tasks and nuclear strikes, the Rafale C single-seat version for the air defense role and ground attacks and the Rafale M Navy version for deployment from the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. The Rafale B and C versions would be employed by the French Air Force and the Rafale M would be employed by the French Navy. The Rafale was eventually introduced for the first time in 2001. The Rafale is the first French fighter to possess super cruise properties. This means that the Rafale can fly faster than the speed of sound without using the afterburner. After a very long time, the first foreign deals have also been concluded with countries such as Egypt, India and Quatar.

For the French Navy, the Rafale M is an important aircraft. It is the best multi-role fighter aircraft in the history of the French Navy which they have ever had. In comparison to the air force versions, the Rafale M has a very heavy landing gear which allows landings on an aircraft carrier. The Rafale M is an aircraft which stands higher on its wheels and leans a bit backwards compared to the air force versions. The nose wheel has a launch bar which can be connected to the catapult on the aircraft

carrier. The French have chosen to use the same system with the same sizes as the US Navy has. The French Rafale M is therefore also able to operate from an American aircraft carrier. Between the engines on the rear of the Rafale M, a much larger arrester hook is seen than on the air force versions. As a result, the Rafale M is able to catch the deck cables on the aircraft carrier for a deck landing. The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle was not finished when the first tests with the Rafale M began. When the aircraft was qualified at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, many landings were made aboard of the American aircraft carriers. Also for the training of the first Rafale M flight crews, American ships were used. The Rafale M is the only non-US plane which is capable to operate from American ships. In 2001, the Rafale M officially joined the French navy and since then, 48 Rafale M aircraft have been built for the French Navy.

The Charles de Gaulle is the French Navy's flagship and is the only active aircraft carrier in France. The Rafale M is designed for deployment from this ship. The ship is the tenth French aircraft carrier, but it is the first French nuclear-powered surface ship. The aircraft carrier is named after the French statesman and General Charles de Gaulle. The ship has several aircraft and helicopters on board, such as; the Rafale M, the E-2C Hawkeye, the EC725 Caracal and the AS532 Cougar. In total, the ship can carry more than 40 aircraft and helicopters. The ship is a classic CATOBAR aircraft carrier and has two 75 meters long C13-3 steam catapults. The Charles de Gaulle is the replacement of the Foch and the Clemenceau. The Charles de Gaulle was initially baptized to Richelieu by Francois Mitterrand in France in 1986. Richelieu was a famous French statesman Armand-Jean du Plessis, also known as the Cardinal or Duc de Richelieu. On February 7, 1987, however, the name of the ship was changed to Charles de Gaulle by Gaullist Prime Minister Jacques Chirac. In total, the Charles de Gaulle had more than fourteen trial voyages before the ship eventually came into active service in 2001. During the trial voyages, there have been several problems which delayed the appointment in active service. From October 11, 2001, the Charles de Gaulle was able to communicate with other navy ships using the Link 16 system which is used throughout Europe.

The first operational deployment of the Rafale M aboard the Charles de Gaulle was during the Indian-Pakistani crisis in July 2002. The French Navy Rafales then performed with US Navy airplanes off the coast of India and Pakistan different CAP (Combat Air Patrol) missions. The Charles de Gaulle also participated in operations during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2005. The ship returned to Southwest Asia in May 2006 and shortly after that, it supported the coalition efforts in Afghanistan with the deployment of the Rafale M. This was the first time the Rafale M was really deployed in combat missions. The next major commitment of the aircraft carrier would follow after the 2007 revision, when the ship participated in Operation Agapanthus in 2010. The Rafales were deployed to support NATOs International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. On March 20, 2011, the Charles de Gaulle was deployed in the Mediterranean to support the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. This resolution meant maintaining a no-fly zone above Libya. The Rafale M was used during Operation Harmattan. In January 2015, the Charles de Gaulle started preparing for exercises in the Indian Ocean. At the end of February, however, the Battle Group moved to the Persian Gulf to participate in Operation Chammal against Islamic State militants in Iraq. France was the first country which supported the Americans during this intervention with more than fifteen Rafales.

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