Rafale vs F-35 dogfight performance

1) Rafale will not be entering dogfight with its full external load. Fuel tanks will be dropped, and all but wingtip missiles expended, prior to the merge. Empty hardpoints and wingtip missiles cause relatively minor drag penalty, one that cannot negate F-35s far higher baseline drag.

2) Performance penalty due to external carriage is only really relevant when baseline performance is the same, but Rafale has far better baseline performance than the F-35:

2.1) Rafale’s wing loading at combat takeoff weight is 325 kg/m2, which is less than the F-35s wing loading at combat weight (428 kg/m2). Difference is 32%. At combat weight, Rafale has wing loading of 275 kg/m2 (difference 56%).

2.2) Rafale’s canards add 3,6 m2 to wing’s own 45,7 m2. Further, they can be expected to improve maximum lift coefficient of wing by cca 9%. This results in effective wing area of 53,4 m2 and wing loading of 235,6 kg/m2. F-35s horizontal tail adds 11,8 m2 to wing’s own 42,7 m2, but does not make any further contribution. This results in effective wing area of 54,5 m2 and wing loading of 335,2 kg/m2. That is still a 42% difference. Further, Rafale’s wing trailling edge control surfaces have the same effect as the F-35s tail during sustained turn, but at less drag due to cleaner aft lines.

2.3) In order to initiate a turn, F-35’s tail momentarily provides download before settling into a lift-producing position. Rafale’s canards momentarily provide upload before settling into a neutral position in which they create no lift by themselves, but improve wing lift and reduce drag. This also reduces need for Rafale’s elevons to provide download in order to initiate a turn, further improving instantaneous turn rate. Taking a look at the point above, this means that effective wing loading during instantaneous turn is 235,6 kg/m2 for Rafale and 591,3 kg/m2 for F-35 (151% difference), while effective wing loading for sustained turn is 252,7 kg/m2 for Rafale and 335,2 kg/m2 for the F-35 (33% difference).

2.4) Rafale’s canards create an area of low pressure on forward part of the wing. This moves center of lift forward, increasing instability beyond the static instability already built into the aircraft. Further, unlike the static instability, dynamic instability does not shift to stability in supersonic flight. This results in significant subsonic, and especially supersonic, maneuvering advantage even before lower wing loading, higher thrust-to-weight ratio and tailless delta’s traditional planform advantages in supersonic maneuver (no interference drag, large amount of lift) are accounted for.

2.5) Rafale, thanks to its combination of 48*-swept wing and LERX, has an effective wing sweep of 56*. F-35 has physical wing sweep of 35* and an effective wing sweep of either 39* or 55*, depending on how you count it.

2.6) Rafale also does not have internal bomb bays or overemphasis on radar LO, both of which cause a large penalty in the F-35s baseline drag.

2.7) Rafale has thrust-to-weight ratio of 1,01 at combat takeoff and 1,2 at combat weight, compared to the F-35s 0,87 at combat takeoff and 1,07 at combat weight. Combined with advantages noted in previous points (2.4-2.6), this results in significantly better acceleration and sustained turn capability.

2.8) Rafale’s canards not only improve pitch onset and turn onset rates (2.2-2.4) but they also energize outer portion of the wing, thus improving roll onset rates. Combined, this gives Rafale a transient performance significantly superior to that of the F-35.

3) Both external fuel tanks and most missiles are expended prior to the fight. Rafale in dogfighting configuration only has 2 wingtip IR missiles, and contrary to opinions of some people, properly integrated wingtip missiles (here I am discussing the F-16/Rafale/Gripen configuration) actually reduce drag when carried. F-35 on the other hand can either limit itself with internal carriage (which means that pilot has to wait for cca 1 second for doors to open) or carry wingtip missiles (which are carried not on tips of wings but on classical underwing hardpoints some distance away from wing tips, and thus do cause drag penalty). In addition to wingtip stations, Rafale also has two semi-conformal stations on body near the wing root; thus both the F-35 and Rafale carry 4 missiles in low-drag configuration, and both can carry a maximum of 10 missiles.

4) Rafale can achieve Mach 1,8 and cruise at Mach 1,2-1,4 with 6 missiles. F-35 can achieve Mach 1,6 and cruise at Mach 0,95 with 4 internal missiles. This makes it quite clear that the F-35 has inferior acceleration (and thus lift-to-drag and thrust-to-drag ratios) compared to Rafale, even when both aircraft are in air-to-air configuration. Similarly, clean F-35 achieves only 17% greater combat radius than the air-to-air configured Rafale (1.082 vs 925 km), despite having 17% greater fuel fraction (0,369 vs 0,316 at combat takeoff weight) and 75% greater total internal fuel capacity (8.280 kg vs 4.720 kg).

Further reading

Dassault Rafale vs F-35

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165 thoughts on “Rafale vs F-35 dogfight performance

  1. Rafale is combat proven, F35 is still in testing and might not be ready with all the full combat capabilities integrated in is systems until 2022-2025.The one thing you forgot to mention is that the Rafale is the only fighter with reverse thrust, and a white flag instead of a speed brake…lol secondly, I am really impressed with the Rafale. The stealth capabilities of the F-35 are probably and ridiculously over rated. In rereading how the Serbs downed the F117 in 1999 it seems already back then there was experimentation with modifying radar for long wave pickup combined with turning on radar for 17 second bursts or less. Plus their radar picked up on the plane when it opened its bomb bay.They had some really good fast G2A missiles combined with some wily experienced & determined operators. Never underestimate what the lowly ground guys are up to, to defeat stealth!

  2. You can see the duels F22/Rafale, the Americans need to cheated
    (joke of imaginary tanks, choice of combat rules to benefit the F22, refusal to take french points and so on …) everything to hide how much the usaf are in dificulty by a better airplane for 1/4 of the f22 price, and which is manufactured by frogs !!! oh my god … (cowboys it deep in their ass !!!) sorry for that :p
    F22 are unable to knock Rafales, I can not imagine F35 could happen !
    F35 are an aircraft that looks even worse than the F16

    American are riche (due to theft and extortion of other nations), and no talent for design a good aircraft fighter !

    Everything are betters in the Rafale to the F35 flying wreckage.
    No think to say more !!!

    • F-16 was an excellent fighter as designed, but age and USAFs insistence on air-to-ground orientation mean that it has lost its edge (F-15 would have been a far better AtG fighter, which was acknowledged with the F-15E).

      Against Rafale, F-35 would get raped. Hard, in either WVR or BVR, but especially the former.

    • You sound like a whiny little baby! All these excuses. Just a bunch of sour grapes.

      When F-22 wins you go home and cry to mommy that we cheated. When you win its clear evidence of your superiority.

      The Rafale is a good aircraft I think everyone admits that. Is it better than F-22? That’s up for lots of debate. Of course, in this euro-centric blog Rafale gets a lot of love.

      US participates in any and all exercises and we usually do pretty well.

      America is rich for many reasons. Some exploitation is present but not more than any other world power throughout history. To include the European powers through their history.

      I find it amusing how Europeans talk crap about Americas abuse of power. You need to look in the mirror. America has more capability to abuse power right now, thats all. Sometimes I think some Europeans recent that for first time in hundreds of years its not them dominating the world.

      • “America is rich for many reasons. Some exploitation is present but not more than any other world power throughout history. To include the European powers through their history. ”

        Precisely, only difference is in manner it is being done in. It is also interesting how it is *always* imperialistic powers that promote free market, open trade, deregulation etc. – that is not accident in any way.

        “Sometimes I think some Europeans recent that for first time in hundreds of years its not them dominating the world.”

        That, and the fact that United States tend to be quite self-righteous when it comes to it. All that talk about democracy, human rights etc… it is basically identical to European imperialists’ talk about “spreading civilization”. But what is wrong is wrong, regardless of when it happens, and it is problems currently existing that have to be solved. Not that either European or US imperialism is anything new, American imperialism has a continuous history dating back to very beginnings of the United States, and European imperialist powers have been in the business for centuries as well, most if not all of them even longer than US (depending on how you count it).

  3. The poor turn rate of the JSF wouldn’t be an issue in the situations the plane is design for, but the lack of thrust ratio punish him against any lighter aircraft.
    Moreover, Dassault, during his developpement of Rafale, proved a great plane could be developped before a long time test, because its based on fighter cell already tested.
    One thing is, Rafale take the essentials performances of a fighter to enhance them ( manoeuvrability, thrust, and quantity of amo), the JSF is meant to be a mix of many advanced technologies V/STOL long range detection, furtivity, and not as an advance fighter.
    To resume, rafale is a great fighter, JSF is a great weapon.

    • JSF may become a good strike aircraft eventually, but that’s it. Lack of maneuverability prevents it from performing well in either air superiority or close air support missions.

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