|This is my translation of a new article from TTU Online:
The Rafale's First Red Flag
For the armée de l'air, two years after its official entry into service at Saint Dizier, the summer of 2008 was the first opportunity to fully test the Rafale in the context of a large-scale war gaming exercise in the Nevada desert, which came at the conclusion of a long journey journey across the American continent following a crossing of the Atlantic via the Azores.
Planned for a year and a half, the goal of Red Flag is to prepare the French air forces for tactical interoperability. The armée de l'air has taken part in Red Flag on a regular basis since 1981, and nearly all of its combat aircraft types have participated. This time, it was the Rafale's turn, as a prelude to the participation of the Mirage F1CT/CR this fall in Green Flag -- a CAS exercise smaller in scale than Red Flag but which prepares forces for missions currently being undertaken in Afghanistan.
And so, from the 7th to the 22nd August, a detachment of four Rafales from the fighter squadron 1/7 "Provence", based in Saint-Dizier, accompanied by a C-135FR tanker, spent ten days taking part in the fourth Red Flag of 2008, certainly the most demanding -- the closest thing to real war, they say -- for a Western pilot.
The detachment of 85 personnel, under the command of colonel Philippe Poireault, the team's leader, and of the lieutenant colonel Fabrice Grandclaudon, commander of the 1/7, consisted in all of fourteen pilotes, six navigators, an intelligence officer, and 39 mechanics. The detachment consisted of two teams; one for missions during the day and one for missions at night. The roster was rounded out by air commandos responsible for the security of the aircraft.
Taking place immediately following a 10-day base exchange at Luke Air Force Base with F-16s and personnel of the USAF's 309th TFS, the goal of the Rafale's first Red Flag was to compare the Rafale, which the squadron has been flying for two years, with combat aircraft of the same generation (called the 4th generation): F-15Es of the USAFE, F-15Ks of the RoKAF, F-15 and F-16 Aggressors, and Su-30MKIs of the IAF. It should be noted that half of the French participants had participated in the Afghan theater in recent months.
The four Rafale from the 1/7 (numbers 317, 320, 321, and 325) were all two-seaters, of the F2+ standard (and thus very recent), with a total "swing role" capability and whose simulated armament was composed of Mica IR/EM AAMs and rocket-propelled inertially guided AASM/GPS weapons. The missions were supported by the SLPRM (the SAGEM local mission planning and replay system, a mission-planning computer system).
During the ten days of Red Flag, the Rafale Bs undertook a total of four sorties per day, each averaging two hours (1 day strike and 1 night strike), as part of a Blue Air strike package consisting in general of fifty to sixty aircraft. This took place in outside temperatures above 45°C, nearly identical to conditions in Kandahar, Afghanistan. These temperatures were in fact more taxing on the crews and maintainers than on the aircraft; the M88's power reserve at takeoff assuring comfortable levels of thrust at the beginnings of the missions. The aircraft were normally equipped with three large supersonic external tanks of 1200 liters to mimic a heavy war load.
The primary preoccupation of the armée de l'air in coming to Nellis AFB with the Rafale was first to verify the proper integration of the aircraft and its systems in a dense and complex environment of allied aircraft, notably with the participation of EA-6B electronic warfare aircraft and F-16CJs performing SEAD.
General Jean-Pierre Martin, commander of the combat air forces, who even participated in one of the last Rafale B missions over the Nellis range (which is as large as the territory of Switzerland!) during the August Red Flag, commented: "After a year and a half of preparation, the system is in operational service and has been utilised in operatiosn which demonstrates that the capabilities of the aircraft are at the desired level. The Rafale behaved itself very well and fulfilled its part of the missions, and even did so easily thanks to the combination of its sensors and its networking systems (link 16). We can say that, for the first time, in contrast to previous exercises involving Jaguars or Mirage F1s or 2000, the French flew at Red Flag on an aircraft of comparable generation which had nothing to envy those of its American, Korean, and Indian comrades." Also taking into account the mission profiles undertaken in a theater saturated with surface-to-air and air-to-air threats, the Rafale also very well demonstr5ated its capacity to penetrate enemy air defenses thanks to its very capable weapon system to which the new AASM bomb is not a stranger. In fact, if the different participants were not particula