Rafale faces off with USAF F-35 in combat simulation against J-20

Get ready for some aerial excitement! The French flagship Dassault Rafale is set to challenge U.S. F-16 and F-35 fighter jets in intense simulated dogfights. On May 30, eight Rafale fighter jets from the Indian Air Force [IAF] touched down at the American Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. 

Rafale faces off with USAF F-35 in combat simulation against J-20
Photo credit: Pan.bg

Accompanied by Il-78 air-to-air refueling aircraft and S-17 transport aircraft, the Indian fighters are participating in the Red Flag 24 exercise alongside the United States Air Force [USAF]. This exercise features various combat simulation scenarios, often reflecting potential threats from the past 36 months. 

Some experts believe that the strained relations between India and China will be a significant focus. The American F-35 stealth fighter of the fifth generation will likely play the role of the “Chinese J-20,” challenging the Indian Rafale. This provides Indian pilots with a valuable opportunity to gain insights into the J-20, which the Chinese frequently deploy along their border with India.

Rafale F4's stealth characteristics match those of the Su-57
Photo credit: French MoD

Changing dynamics

The evolution of these exercises highlights the shifting dynamics of global security. There’s a renewed focus on preparing the United States and its allies for potential scenarios against near-peer rivals, particularly China and Russia. 

This year’s Red Flag exercises are tightly aligned with the 2022 National Defense Strategy. They emphasize the importance of deterring aggression and tackling emerging challenges in both the Indo-Pacific and Europe. 

Chinese stealth J-20 with serial number 2051 has design changes
Photo credit: Chinese Internet

Red Flag exercises typically run three times a year and cater to varying levels of participation. They range from U.S.-only sessions to broader exercises involving an array of global allies. 

F-35 vs J-20

Technically, the F-35 is a multirole fighter designed for versatility across various mission profiles, including air superiority, ground attack, and reconnaissance. The J-20, on the other hand, is primarily designed for air superiority with a focus on long-range engagements and stealth penetration capabilities. 

UK boasted: 'This is an F-35B, fully loaded, maximum effort'
Photo credit: Twitter

In terms of stealth, the F-35 employs advanced radar-absorbent materials and a design optimized for minimal radar cross-section [RCS]. Its internal weapons bays and carefully designed airframe contribute to its low observability. 

The J-20 also incorporates stealth features, such as an angular airframe and internal weapons bays, but experts debate whether its stealth capabilities match those of the F-35. Some analysts suggest that the J-20’s larger size and certain design elements may make it more detectable than the F-35. 

When it comes to maneuverability, the F-35 is known for its advanced avionics and flight control systems, which provide excellent agility and handling characteristics. It features a single-engine design that, while powerful, is optimized for a balance of speed and maneuverability. The J-20, with its twin-engine configuration, is designed for high-speed performance and long-range operations. 

South Korean F-35A
Photo credit: USAF

Regarding armament, the F-35 is equipped with a variety of advanced weapons systems, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, and precision-guided bombs. Its internal weapons bays allow it to maintain stealth while carrying a significant payload. 

The J-20 also features internal weapons bays and can carry a range of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. However, the exact specifications and capabilities of its armament are less well-documented, leading to some uncertainty about its full combat potential.

Rafale as a superior substitute

J-20 fleet is growing - 13 Chinese brigades have the Mighty Dragon
Photo credit: Pinterest

Although India does not have a stealth fighter comparable to the American F-35 or the Chinese J-20, the French “bird” Rafale is in no way inferior to the Chinese fighter. The French Rafale fighter is often considered to have a serious chance against the Chinese J-20 due to its advanced avionics and electronic warfare capabilities. The Rafale is equipped with the Thales RBE2-AA active electronically scanned array [AESA] radar, which provides superior situational awareness and targeting precision. This radar system is known for its high reliability and ability to track multiple targets simultaneously, giving the Rafale a significant edge in air-to-air combat scenarios. 

Another critical factor is the Rafale’s agility and maneuverability. The aircraft is designed with a delta wing and canard configuration, which allows for excellent aerodynamic performance. This design enables the Rafale to perform high-G maneuvers and maintain control in dogfight situations, potentially outmaneuvering the J-20, which is a larger and heavier aircraft. 

The Rafale also benefits from its versatility and multirole capabilities. It can perform a wide range of missions, from air superiority to ground attack, with a variety of weapon systems. This flexibility allows Rafale pilots to adapt to different combat situations quickly, making it a formidable opponent in various scenarios.

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

Stealth features

Furthermore, the Rafale’s Spectra electronic warfare system is one of the most advanced in the world. It provides comprehensive self-protection by detecting, identifying, and countering threats through jamming, decoys, and other countermeasures. This system enhances the Rafale’s survivability against the J-20’s radar and missile systems. 

In terms of stealth, while the J-20 is designed with stealth features to reduce its radar cross-section, the Rafale employs a combination of stealth technologies and tactics to minimize its detectability. Although it may not be as stealthy as the J-20, the Rafale’s advanced electronic warfare capabilities can help mitigate this disadvantage by disrupting the J-20’s targeting systems. 

French Rafale F5 coming with emphasis on EW and SEAD in 2030
Photo credit: Twitter

Lastly, pilot training and experience play a crucial role in determining the outcome of any aerial engagement. French Rafale pilots undergo rigorous training and have extensive experience in various combat environments. This high level of training and operational experience can provide a significant advantage over J-20 pilots, who may not have the same level of combat exposure.

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