French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has announced the next step in the continuous upgrade process of the Rafale combat aircraft with the official go-ahead for initial development work on the F4 standard.
The new standard, which will integrate feedback from operations, will reinforce the Rafale’s capacities to operate on its own and within a coalition. According to a defence ministry statement, developments will focus on improved networking modes, sesnor upgrades and sensor integration.
The F4 standard will also take account of expected missile and engine improvements and the integration of new capacities. The first fully equipped F4 aircraft are expected to enter service in 2025, though certain functions will be available in 2023.
The go-ahead for a future tranche of Rafales could be included in the next LPM multiyear defence spending bill. Dassault expects to deliver just four of the 28 remaining Rafales for France under the current LPM (2014-2019). Meanwhile, India, Qatar and Egypt are awaiting delivery of a total of 78 Rafales.
The multirole Rafale will in due course become the sole manned combat aircraft in service with the French forces.