France seems to have decided to skip the fifth-generation fighter and proceed directly to a sixth-generation fighter, the “Future Combat Air System” FCAS.

France has a tradition of building their own squadron. They don’t need stealth fighters right now. Rafale can deal with anything their enemies might have, while waiting for FCAS to become available. The “Future Combat Air System” is being developed jointly with Germany and Spain. It’s their own Joint Strike Fighter. First flight of a demonstration model is expected for 2027. It is intended to replace all Rafale and Mirage 2000 in France as well as all Eurofighters and Superhornet in Germany and the Eurofighter and F-35 in Spain. Even the UK has shown interest.

F-35
F-35

Paris is particularly focused on maintaining an independent arms industry and has never seriously considered purchasing F-35s. Instead, France is working with Germany and other partners to develop a sixth-generation Future Combat Air System stealth jet to enter service in 2035-2040.

While waiting for FCAS, France continues to put its faith in Rafale. Despite incorporating stealth technology, the Rafale is not a true stealth aircraft like the F-35. France is actively adding networked sensors and weapons to the Rafale’s superior kinematic performance and powerful electronic warfare systems will keep the agile jet relevant in an era of proliferating stealth aircraft and long-range surface-to-air missiles.

In January 2019, French Defense Minister Florence Parly announced France would commit $2.3 billion to develop an F4 generation of the Dassault Rafale twin-engine multirole fighter.  This would include production in 2022–2024 of the last twenty-eight of the original order of 180 Rafales, followed by the purchase of an additional thirty Rafales F4.2s between 2027–2030, for a total of 210.  Since 2008, France has deployed land- and carrier-based Rafales into combat in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali and Syria.

The Rafale is much more agile than the F-35, with superior climb rate, sustained turn performance, and ability to super-cruise at Mach 1.4 while carrying weapons. The Rafale’s all-moving canards give the fighter excellent lift and low-altitude speed and performance.

The Rafale boasts an advanced Spectra electronic warfare system that supposedly can reduce the Rafale’s cross-section several times over. Spectra also incorporates powerful jammers and flare and chaff dispensers, provides 360-degree early-warning, and can even assist Rafale pilots in targeting weapons to retaliate against attackers. Other key capabilities include sensor fusion of the Rafale’s RBE-2AA Active Electronically Scanned Array multi-mode radar, which can track numerous targets over 124 miles away.

On the F4 generation, introduces additional network-centric warfare capabilities and data-logistics similar to those on the F-35 Lightning, enabling Rafales on patrol to build a more accurate picture of the battlespace by pooling their sensors over a secure network, and even exchange data using new satellite communications antenna. The pilots also benefit from improved helmet-mounted displays.

Given the capabilities of the defense industry, it is clear that France is determined to maintain its ability to produce its own fighters. The Mirage III, the Mirage 5, the Mirage F1, and the Mirage 2000, were all better than contemporary fighters from the Soviet Union and in many ways just as good as third and fourth generation fighters being produced in the United States. And with the upgrades on the latest Rafale F4 variant, buying the F-35 is clearly unnecessary.

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