|The Dassault Rafale.|
Originally a member of the same group that went on do develop the Eurofighter, France backed out early in the program. It was clear that what France wanted was not in sync with Germany and Britain. Germany and Britain were in need of a air superiority fighter to rival the MiG-29s and Su-27s that the Soviets had just unveiled. France, on the other hand, was looking for a more balanced and affordable multirole fighter to replace its aging fleet of aircraft, both in the air force (Armée de l'air) and Navy (Marine Nationale). It was also looking to secure its own military aircraft industry, and it was unhappy with not having a stronger say in what would become the Typhoon's development. Instead, France went off on its own and developed the Dassault Rafale.
Much like the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Rafale's development was delayed thanks to end of the Cold War and France's military budget being slashed as a "peace dividend". Eventually, the Rafale was placed in production to begin replacing outdated Mirage 2000s, F1s, Jaguars, and Super Etendards. The Rafale M is now the sole fighter of France's navy and is the flagship of France's air force. Since its procurement, the Rafale has proven its worth in combat over Afghanistan, Libya and now, Mali.
|A Rafale on its way to Mali.|
|Will it fit? Probably.|
The Rafale is no slouch in the air-superiority role either, it is highly manoeuvrable and it is capable of supercruise while carrying a light load. It's top speed is slightly higher than a CF-18. The Rafale doesn't quite enjoy the Typhoon's air superiority reputation, but it should be capable enough at the hands of a competent pilot.
For detection, the Rafale is available with a modern AESA radar and IRST (infrared search and track).
|Various components of the Rafale's SPECTRA ECM system.|
Another key selling point of the Rafale is its SPECTRA electronic counter measure (ECM) system. This gives the Rafale a "semi-stealth" capability when combined with its construction of radar absorbing materials. This enables it to avoid enemy detection by sending out false signals, decoys, or simply jamming enemy radar.
|A Rafale M on landing on a aircraft carrier.|
All together, the Rafale offers a compelling option. It offers great versatility, robustness, and survivability. It appears to be an easy sell for those who believe the Gripen is simply too small and the Typhoon is too expensive and specialized. But it is right for Canada?
Although much of the marketing behind the Rafale emphasizes its lower cost compared to the Eurofighter Typhoon, recent sales do not seem to agree with this. Indeed, the Typhoon and Gripen have been far more popular on the export market, with India's recent purchase being the only foreign sale of the Rafale thus far. A future sale to Brazil is possible, but the Rafale needs to prove its value over the much cheaper Super Hornet and Gripen to do so.
One of the more controversial lost Rafale sales was Switzerland. After an extensive competition comparing the Typhoon, Rafale, and Gripen; the Gripen NG was chosen. The Rafale was said to have more capability, but Dassault could only offer 16 Rafales for the same cost as 22 Saab Gripens Es.
|French fighter... French munitions.|
Although Dassault's website promises the ability to mount "Customer-selected weapons", the Rafale is currently outfitted to handle predominantly French made missiles. It does use the NATO standard "STANAG 1760" for compatibility but there doesn't seem to be any indication of it being tested with Canadian legacy weapons like the AMRAAM and Sidewinder. It will be compatible with the upcoming MBDA Meteor, but will only share a one-way datalink with the missile, rather than the two-way datalink the Meteor will have with the Gripen and Typhoon.
The Rafale's weapon compatibility isn't such a big deal for India, it currently flies the Dassault Mirage and is already equipped with a stockpile of French munitions. Canada, however, would have to make the decision to either replace our current stockpile of American AMRAAMs, Sidewinders, Mavericks, and Harpoons for French Micas, Hammers, and Exocets; or wait (and pay) for the Rafale to be tested and cleared for Canada's current weapon stockpile. Any price advantage the the Rafale has over the Typhoon could easily be eliminated by extra costs inherited with its weapon systems.
|Is there such a thing as "Too French"?|
Dassault's recent deal with India included manufacturing the majority of Indian Rafales in India. Whether or not Canada could get the same deal is unknown. It isn't as likely however, as India has ordered substantially more Rafales than Canada potentially would. (as many as 189 vs. 65-70)
If I were to rank Canada's choices for its next jet fighter, the Rafale would probably be tied for second place with the Typhoon (with the F-35 4th and the Super Hornet a distant 5th). Although it lacks the Typhoon's ferocity in the air, it makes up for it with its (percieved) cheaper cost and superior ground attack ability. Much like the Typhoon, Canada's potential purchase of a Rafale would depend on a lot of factors that come to light at the negotiation table: Price, industrial offsets and future support.