Efthymios Tsiliopoulos: Why under certain conditions the Rafale will give the advantage to Greece

Μοναδική ευκαιρία ο στρατηγικός διάλογος Ινδίας και Γαλλίας
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The upcoming integration of the Rafale fighters in Hellenic Air Force service is estimated to upset the balance of power with Turkey in the air in favor of Greece. This prediction can come true, provided that this new state-of-the-art fighter will be used properly.

Undoubtedly, the Rafale provides an advantage for the Air Force, as it is a 4th generation aircraft, a generation more advanced than the F-16, which first flew as a prototype in 1973. It is, of course, more advanced than Dassault’s previous achievement, the Mirage-2000.

The points on which most publications focus are the advanced electronic equipment, the armament it can carry, the range, and other technical features. There is, however, no understanding at this time that the regular advantages of the aircraft translate into operational trump cards, and these, in turn, make it a truly unique advantage.

The tactical environment

This aircraft is not completely stealthy, because the cost to make it so was considered unacceptably excessive. The Rafale, however, was designed for reduced radar cross-section (RCS) and infrared signature. Many of its features have been designed to reduce its radar detectability and remain classified for the time being.

The glass cockpit was designed according to the principle of data fusion. A computer selects and prioritizes the information that will be displayed to the pilots for simpler handling and control. Among the features of the highly digitized cockpit is a built-in direct voice input system (DVI), which allows the pilot to control a host of aircraft operations with spoken voice commands, simplifying operator access.

It is obvious that the use of two Snecma M88 engines allows the aircraft to perform supersonic flight, without using the afterburner, even with a load of four missiles and an external tank. In addition, two engines provide much greater survivability in the event of damage or antiaircraft. The aircraft has a range of 1,850 km on a penetration mission with three tanks (5,700 L), two SCALP-EG missiles, and two MICA air-to-air missiles.

Powerful armament

The 14 pylons enable the Rafale to carry a large weight, ie tanks and a variety of weapons, including the SCALP missile, a variety of weapons against ground targets. The various strike weapons (smart or not) include the AASM-Hammer air-to-surface missiles, the AS-30L high-precision missiles, and the Magic II, MICA, and Meteor air-to-air missiles.

Many refer to the Meteor range, which exceeds 100 km (Indian analysts report 150+), in contrast to the American AIM-7E (43 km), AIM-7F (85 km) and AIM-120C-5 (approximately 100 km) carried by F-16s. The differences seem small, but they are crucial because the Meteor is powered by a built-in scramjet engine that allows it to maintain and increase speed in flight. Conversely, conventional rockets begin to lose speed the longer they are in flight.

But what plays a crucial role is the RBE2 AA Active Scanned Radar (AESA) radar, which provides a maximum detection range of 200 km. It can detect 40 targets simultaneously over a 100 km arc. It has an advanced warning receiver for the detection of enemy surveillance systems and a trailing decoy system to lure incoming missiles. The Rafale also has an integrated defense aid system called SPECTRA, which protects the aircraft from air and ground threats.

Operational environment

Obviously, 18 aircraft, no matter how advanced, do not alone provide air superioriority, but can with intelligent use be a real force multiplier. Being a multi-role aircraft, the Rafale can perform all the missions that a modern air force requires from a fighter: interception, aerial combat, bombing, escort, precision attack on land and sea targets.

With suitable pods, the Rafale can also carry out reconnaissance, air supply, but also electronic warfare and interference of enemy electronic systems. At present, however, it is not known whether such systems are included in the aircraft ordered by Greece and if such are included it is not appropriate to make this known.

The use of Rafale in the role of interception is obviously not the most appropriate, although it can easily perform this due to its very high rate of ascent, and on the other hand its armament. However, in case a massive invasion of Turkish fighters manages to penetrate to hit strategic targets in mainland Greece, the Rafale with a full load of Meteor and with the ability to engage 40 targets simultaneously can be fatal for the intruders.

As it turns out, the weapons carrying capabilities give the aircraft great strike capabilities. Rafale is particularly effective in long-range precision strikes. However, because no aircraft is invulnerable to anti-aircraft systems, their small number makes their use problematic, as any loss will be a costly blow.

In an escort role

On the other hand, Rafale offers enormous potential in the role of escorting other aircraft, which will carry out deep penetration and strikes against strategic targets of the adversary. As the strike aircraft penetrate enemy airspace to bomb with long-range weapons, Rafale can provide cover against a possible attempt to intercept the strike force, initially from a distance and at close if required.

Since Scalp missiles for precision strikes on land targets and Exocet missiles for naval targets can be carried by the existing Mirage 2000 / 2000-5 in Hellenic Air Force service, there is no need to use the few Rafale for this role. The same can be said for the AGM-154C JSOW and AGM-88B HARM (anti-radar) missiles carried by the F-16.

Assuming that the procurement of at least one F-35 squadron succeeds, then a combination of F-35s in a bombing role and the Rafale as an escort could be fatal for the opponent. The stealth characteristics of the F-35s will allow them to make deep penetrations without being noticed. Once they hit the targets they will be able to leave under the cover of the Rafale. Obviously, even if the enemy has not “seen” the aircraft before the strike, after the attack the enemy will certainly launch fighters to intercept, which will spread out for visual contact and interception.

The theater of operations

All of this can thrive if the theater of operations is well known and there is planning for the proper use of assets. This presupposes the knowledge, evaluation, and prioritization of goals and objectives. Here unknown quantities go beyond the capabilities of any aircraft. And the character of the fighter aircraft makes it a weapon of the theater of operations.

Some things are known. Airports and buildings do not change location, but aircraft change location and airports. If you do not know the position and deployment of the opponent you can not hurt him. If Greece does not have a surveillance (spy) satellite it should gain access to such data from other countries.

Since it is unlikely that the US will provide Greece with such information, it should be sought from other friendly countries that have such capabilities. Leasing of services provided by commercial companies may be sufficient if they meet the needs of the Air Force (real-time transmission, analysis, etc.).

The strategic importance of the Rafale

The need to cover two business theaters (Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean) gives a strategic dimension to Air Force operations. Unlike Turkey, which is centrally located in relation to these two theaters of operations, Greece can only act centrally in the Aegean. In the Eastern Mediterranean, it must operate regionally, launching air forces from its territory to this sea area.

Aircraft must have sufficient range to carry out their missions over the marine environment and to return safely. Rafale has the range that allows them to operate in this environment, They are able to cover 3200-3700 km with all external tanks (up to 5) and full load. Incidentally, the distance between Athens and Larnaca is 950 km, while from Crete it is about 800 km. This means that missions to Cyprus can be undertaken with sufficient time over the area of operations and avoiding a risky re-supply in Cyprus.

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