French Defense Procurement Agency Orders 42 Rafale F4 Combat Aircraft Amid Training Shortfalls

The French Defense Procurement Agency (DGA) has ordered 42 Rafale F4 combat aircraft for the French Air and Space Force (AAE). Sébastien Lecornu, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, stated that this investment exceeding €5 billion will benefit many regions and secure over 7,000 jobs across more than 400 companies in France. Dassault Aviation's Chairman and CEO, Éric Trappier, noted that France's military-industrial sovereignty is unique in Europe, ensuring the superiority of their combat aviation, diplomatic influence, and economic strength in export trade. 


This order aims to fill the capacity gap caused by the sale of 24 used aircraft to Greece and Croatia in recent years. The order was initially expected to be placed in 2023, with the aircraft delivered between 2027 and 2030. Parliament member Frank Giletti highlighted in a report the challenges faced by the French Air Force, with French fighter pilots, projected to fly only 147 hours in 2023, below the NATO standard of a minimum of 180 flight hours per combat pilot annually. 


Giletti stressed the negative impact of this shortfall in the current strategic context that requires increased operational readiness. The French Ministry of the Armed Forces attributed the shortfall to aircraft availability, citing the sale-export of Rafales to Croatia as a limiting factor. Deputy Chief of Staff Frederic Parisot had previously cautioned that the training shortage could last for two years, depending on the timely deliveries of future orders. The F4 standard, focusing on connectivity, air combat, and electronic warfare capabilities, is currently under development and will be deployed through 2025. 

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As explained by the French Ministry of Armed Forces, this standard includes the integration of the Contact radio, the MICA NG missile (new generation), and the Digital Autonomous Jammer (BAN) integrated into the Rafale’s SPECTRA self-protection system. The French Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) qualified the F4.1 standard for the Rafale fighter on March 13, 2023. Over time, every Rafale in the French Air and Space Force and Navy will be upgraded to this new standard. The French Air Force is already defining the requirements for the F5 standard, which will further enhance the Rafale’s connectivity. “When the F5 standard is released, the aircraft will be significantly different,” explained General Stéphane Mille, the French Air Force Chief of Staff, in a parliamentary hearing. “The computing capacities to process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information require wiring that the current Rafale is not capable of supporting.”


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