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article imageRafale: France's versatile fighter jet

By AFP     Sep 21, 2016 in World

France's Rafale multi-role fighter jet, the subject of a major deal approved Wednesday by an Indian government committee, is a versatile plane that is currently being used for bombing missions over Syria and Iraq.

It has also been deployed in the past for air strikes in Libya and Afghanistan.

The deal under which French defence group Dassault will sell 36 Rafales to India for a reported $8.8 billion (7.9 billion euros) is the biggest in the plane's history.

The Rafale initially struggled to attract foreign buyers before Egypt bought 24 of the jets in 2015 and Qatar purchased 24 the same year.

The deal with India is in itself a watered-down version of a plan first unveiled in 2012.

It follows the scrapping of a far larger deal under which India would have bought 126 jets.

Under that agreement, the aircraft would have been built in India but the countries failed to agree on a number of points including the terms of "transfer of technology".

Under the new deal, the Rafales will be built in France and shipped to India, ready for operation.

The multi-role jet was designed to have the ability to take on air-to-air combat, reconnaissance flights and nuclear bombing missions.

- India upgrading air force -

It is this versatility which appeals to India as it upgrades its Soviet-era military hardware, in part to counter rivals Pakistan and China.

For a long time, the French military was the only buyer, ordering 180 of the jets.

The Rafale was created to replace seven types of jets used by the French military, including the iconic Mirage series, when it first rolled off the production line in 1998.

The Rafale can fly as fast as Mach 1.8 -- 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) per hour, or nearly twice the speed of sound.

The delta-shaped plane, featuring canard forward stabilisers, weighs 10 tonnes, has a wingspan of 10.8 metres (35.4 feet) and is 15.3 metres long.

It can take off after 400 metres (yards), fly distances of up to 3,800 kilometres (2,360 miles) and has a combat radius of more than 1,000 nautical miles (1,850 kilometres).

The Rafale has special technology and uses composite materials to give it a very small radar profile and a combat awareness system allowing it to engage multiple targets at up to 200 kilometres away.

The Rafale multi-role jet was designed to have the ability to take on air-to-air combat  reconnaissa...
The Rafale multi-role jet was designed to have the ability to take on air-to-air combat, reconnaissance flights and nuclear bombing missions
Thibaud Moritz, AFP/File

Because targets can be detected "beyond visual range" the cockpit offers interactive systems such as those seen in advanced computer games -- including imaging inside the pilot's helmet and voice commands.

Many "hard points" on its fuselage can anchor 10 tonnes of missiles, bombs and/or external fuel tanks.

The jet is regularly being used to bomb targets of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in Iraq and Syria.

The Rafale saw service regularly in Afghan skies, dropping 250-kilogramme (550 pound), laser-guided US bombs to support NATO troops on the ground.

Rafales were also used when France took part in airstrikes in Libya in 2011, conducting 2,000 missions according to the French military.

The United Arab Emirates has expressed interest in acquiring the aircraft and complex negotiations continue and Malaysia is also looking into the possibility of acquiring the jets.

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