The French Air and Space Force (Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace) can now count on what it describes as a “game-changer.” On March 4, 2021, it announced that it carried out the first operational flight with a Dassault Rafale F3-R fighter jet equipped with combat-ready Meteor missiles. This flight made it possible to validate the process of routing ammunition depots to the armament zone, then to validate the know-how during a first deployment of the missile by the gunsmiths, and to confirm the operational readiness of the crews. Developed by MBDA within the framework of cooperation involving France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Italy, Spain, and Germany, the Meteor is a beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile. The missile has a range of over 150 kilometers (90 miles) and can reach Mach 4 speed.
The mission system of the Dassault Rafale F3-R has the potential to integrate a variety of current and future armaments. The Rafale has been cleared to operate the following weapons: METEOR MICA air-to-air “Beyond Visual Range” (BVR) interception combat and self-defense missiles, HAMMER (Highly Agile and Manoeuvrable Munition Extended Range) air-to-ground precision guided missiles, SCALP long-range stand-off missile, AM39 EXOCET anti-ship missile, Laser-guided bombs, conventional bomb and NEXTER 30M791 30 mm internal cannon. With its 10-tonne empty weight, the RAFALE is fitted with 14 hard points (13 on the RAFALE M). Five of them are capable of drop tanks and heavy ordnance. The Rafale’s stores management system is Mil-Std-1760 compliant, which provides for easy integration of customer-selected weapons. Total external load capacity is more than nine tonnes (20,000 lbs.).
Meteor is an active radar guided beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) developed by MBDA. Meteor offers a multi-shot capability (multiple launches against multiple targets) it has the ability to engage highly maneuverable targets, such as jets, and small targets such as UAVs and cruise missiles in a heavy electronic countermeasures (ECM) environment with a range in excess of 100 kilometres (54 nmi). A solid-fueled ramjet motor allows the missile to cruise at a speed of over Mach 4 and provides the missile with thrust and mid-course acceleration to target intercept. A two-way datalink enables the launch aircraft to provide mid-course target updates or retargeting if required, including data from off-board third parties. Meteor has three to six times the kinetic performance of current air-air missiles of its type.
The Rafale is a French twin-engine, canard delta wing, multirole fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation. Equipped with a wide range of weapons, the Rafale is intended to perform air supremacy, interdiction, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence missions. Rafale F3-R is a two-seater version for the French Air Force. It can operate with the Talios targeting pod (45 ordered by the French Air Force will delivered between 2019-2023). In addition to the missile, the F3R Standard comprises several other upgrades, including the RBE2 AESA radar system and the SPECTRA electronic warfare suite. In September 2020, a patrol of two Rafale F3R fighter jets was called to carry out a strike of opportunity against a position of the so-called Islamic State, neutralizing several insurgents with laser-guided bombs.