One F-22 downed five Rafales, but one Rafale shot down an F-22

In November 2009, during a cooperative exercise in the United Arab Emirates, a scenario unfolded where a U.S. Air Force Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor was “defeated” in a simulated combat by a Rafale jet. 

France bought new Rafales to replace the 'Greek' fighters
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Despite performing admirably in the simulated confrontations, boasting a record of six downed Rafales and stalemates with another five, there was a turning point. In an impressive display of aviation precision, a French pilot pushed his Rafale to its theoretical maximum and achieved a lock on an F-22 Raptor at a staggering 9Gs. 

Contrary to the claims of the American pilots that maintained the Raptor’s undefeated status in these exercises, the French Ministry of Defense had video evidence to the contrary. This footage clearly demonstrated that the Rafale had indeed been in a position to launch an infrared-guided Mica missile at the seemingly invincible Raptor. 

No amount of F-22s can help America deal with Russia in Syria
Photo credit: Pixabay

While there wasn’t an apparent attempt from the U.S. Air Force to conceal the occurrence, the exact details surrounding the incident continue to spark debates. As there was no actual missile launch, some argue that the F-22 may still have retained a potential edge in this confrontation.

Dassault Rafale

The Dassault Rafale’s legacy can be traced back to the initial Avion de Combat Experimentale [ACX] program of the early 1980s. The ACX was a product of France’s decision to exit the joint European Fighter Aircraft [EFA] project in 1985, primarily due to the country’s need for a smaller, carrier-friendly combat aircraft. 

Transformed into a technology demonstrator, the ACX program was launched in 1986 and was later rebranded as Rafale A. Fundamental traits such as the aerodynamics, fly-by-wire regulation system, and extensive use of composite materials in the structure that were designed and proven in the Rafale A, became a prototype for the final Rafale production. 

Named after the French term for a ‘blast of wind’ or a ‘flare of fire’, the Rafale intended to serve as a universal combat jet for both the French Air Force and Navy. The plan was to replace seven different styles of combat aircraft in service, equipped to handle a range of missions from air defense and air superiority to anti-access and anti-ship attacks, from reconnaissance and close air support to nuclear deterrence, and even buddy refueling. 

While designing the multi-role fighter aircraft, engineers ensured that the diverse mission requirements were considered. The result was an aircraft that not only fulfilled every mission criteria but exceeded them, thereby acting as a ‘force multiplier’. 

One F-22 downed five Rafales, but one Rafale shot down an F-22
Video Screenshot

Despite being a product of the late Cold War era, the Rafale is set to be the principal fighter jet for the French military well into 2050 and potentially beyond.

Modernization

The Rafale, a distinguished feature of air defense, first graced the skies in 2001, progressively evolving with enhanced advancements over time. It was initially brought to life through the Rafale A demonstrator that ran on two 68.6kN [15,422 pounds] thrust General Electric F404-GE-400 turbofans. 

First part of UAE's 80 Rafale F4 delivery program is in full swing
Photo credit: Dassault Rafale

Upon experiencing the Rafale A, the path opened up for the advent of the Rafale C. Formerly introduced as the Avion de Combat Tactique [ACT], the Rafale C commenced flights in the late spring of 1991, powered by dual 75kN [16861pound] SNECMA M88-2 afterburning turbofans. 

This fourth-generation combat aircraft is renowned for its quadruple-redundant fly-by-wire system. This sophisticated system ensures longitudinal stability and superior handling performance, split across three digital channels complemented by an independently designed analog channel. Moreover, the unique configuration of the close-coupled/delta wing makes sure the Rafale retains agility, even when dealing with high angles of attack. 

Nodding to its merit, the French Air Force and the French Navy collectively ordered 180 units. The distribution included 132 for the Air Force with the remaining 48 dedicated to the Navy. The Rafale debuted within the French Navy in 2004, including ten units actively serving on its flagship nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle. It wasn’t until 2006 that the Rafale became fully operational with the French Air Force.

F/A-18E SH, Rafale and MiG-29 begin their battle for the Indian Navy
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Dubai Air Show 2023

At the Dubai Air Show, Dassault Rafale made a concerted effort to garner new patronage from the Middle East and Asia. Notably, they eyed Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, with Qatar also showing intentions of expanding its existing fleet of 36 Rafale by another 24 aircraft. 

Seen as the optimal substitute for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, the Rafale aircraft is becoming increasingly attractive to Middle Eastern nations. This is in part due to Israel’s stringent policy against the purchase of the F-35 by neighboring countries, particularly given the prevailing political scenarios. With Israel being broadly criticized by these nations for the Gaza conflict, there’s little probability the Israeli government will shift its stance on the F-35’s permitted buyers. 

This scenario may prove favorable for those in France keen on identifying more international purchasers for the Rafale.

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