Half of Croatia’s Rafale F3-R fleet acquired, full delivery by 2025

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As of February 23rd, the Croatian Ministry of Defence [MoD] celebrated the official acquisition of the first six combat Dassault Rafale aircraft from France. This exciting development means that Croatia has received half of the total order of the 12 Rafales it had initially sought.  

Photo credit: Dassault Aviation

This significant achievement in Croatia’s defense industry comes about five months after the ceremonious handover of the first Rafale to the Croatian MoD. The presentation ceremony took place at the French Air and Space Force [Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace: AAE] base in Mont-de-Marsan in October 2023.  

The decision to onboard the Rafale was made back in May 2021, to phase out their aging fleet of MiG-21s. The deal, costing a hefty sum of EUR1.15 billion [USD1.21 billion], was finalized in November 2021. Payments are planned from 2021 through 2026.  

The squadron purchased by Croatia includes 10 single-seat and two dual-seat AAE RAF Rafale aircraft, all conforming to the F3-R standard. In addition to these aerial assets, Croatia will also receive training simulators and other essential support services up until the end of 2026. The final deliveries of the aircraft are anticipated to be completed within 2025.

The decision came after a ‘scandal’

In 2018, Croatia settled for a worthy contender, the Israeli F-16 Barak. Although these fighters had previous owners, Israel promised an extensive upgrade of their armament systems and avionics. 

The United States, however, felt a sting of disappointment, anticipating that Croatia would instead opt for a new F-16 Block 70/72. Glimpsing the direction of Croatia’s choice, Washington hastily stopped Israel from reselling the F-16 Barak. 

Recently, this has sparked a heated back-and-forth of unfair play accusations between Israel and the United States. The turbulence reached the political chambers in Zagreb, causing a split among politicians. Some favored an immediate purchase of new F-16s from the United States, others decried it as unjust competition and insisted on organizing a new auction. 

Croatia’s final decision to go with the French Rafale, pre-owned but in good condition, was essentially a declaration of independence to the United States. By making this choice, Croatia not only demonstrated its ability to stand up against third-party pressures but also secured its future freedom to choose – even if it meant opting for the pricier offer on the table, in this case, from the French.

Photo credit: Reddit

What is the Rafale F3-R?

The Rafale F3-R is an advanced variant of the Rafale fighter jet, developed by the French company Dassault Aviation. This version represents a significant upgrade over the original Rafale, with enhanced capabilities in terms of avionics, weapons systems, and overall performance. 

The Rafale F3-R differs from the original in several key aspects. It features an upgraded RBE2 AA active electronically scanned array [AESA] radar, which provides improved detection and tracking capabilities. 

The F3-R also includes an advanced front-sector optronics [FSO] system that enables enhanced detection, identification, and designation. Additionally, the F3-R variant is equipped with the Talios Pod, a new-generation laser designation pod that provides high-resolution imaging. 

The capabilities of the Rafale F3-R are extensive. It is a multirole aircraft, capable of executing air supremacy, interdiction, reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike, and nuclear deterrence missions. The F3-R’s advanced avionics, including its AESA radar and FSO system, enable it to detect and engage targets at long ranges, while its Talios Pod ensures precise targeting.

Rafale F3-R’s characteristics 

The Rafale F3-R is defined by its unique twin-engine, canard delta wing design. It possesses a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 [1,912 km/h] and a range exceeding 3,700 km with 3 drop tanks. The aircraft also touts a service ceiling of 50,000 ft and a rate of climb of 60,000 ft/min. Additionally, the F3-R boasts exceptional agility, attributable to its closely-knit canards/delta wing configuration. 

Photo credit: Dassault Rafale

Two M88-2 engines equip the Rafale F3-R with propulsion, each generating 50 kN of dry thrust and 75 kN using afterburners. These engines, devised by Safran Aircraft Engines, have gained recognition for their high thrust-to-weight ratio, modular architecture, and impressive fuel efficiency. 

The Rafale F3-R is equipped with a diverse and potent arsenal. Capable of carrying an array of weapons, it can accommodate air-to-air missiles such as the Meteor, MICA IR/EM, and Magic II, in addition to air-to-ground munitions like the AASM Hammer. Furthermore, the F3-R can haul the SCALP long-range stand-off missile and the Exocet anti-ship missile, among other armaments.

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