Dassault Rafale and Saab Gripen are both multirole fighter aircraft of canard-delta configuration produced in Europe. Rafale was designed to replace seven different aircraft previously in French service, while Gripen was designed for guerilla warfare against a superior enemy. This comparison will use Gripen C.
Impact on pilot’s skill
Most important factors in fighter design are ones that directly affect pilot: sortie rate / maintenance downtime, operating cost, user interface and reliability. Good enough pilot will compensate for aircraft’s weaknesses and focus on strengths, and even if aircraft is inferior across the board, he will be able to beat the opponent through tactics. How important training is was shown clearly in Vietnam: early on, USAFs F-4s achieved negative 2:1 exchange ratios against NVAF MiG-19 and MiG-21. Once USAF put some effort into pilot training, they started regularly achieving positive 2:1 exchange ratios. This is despite the fact that in dogfight, angles fighter (MiG) has no inherent advantage over the energy fighter (F-4) – or the opposite. In fact, MiGs had advantage in Vietnam due to smaller size and less smoky engines.
Rafale can fly 2,7 hours per day. Direct operating cost per hour of flight is 16.500 USD, and fuel consumption is 7.808 kg/h dry and 25.126 kg/h wet. Gripen can fly 2,2 hours per day with direct operating cost per hour of flight of 4.700 USD, and fuel consumption is 4.646 kg/h dry and 14.664 kg/h wet. As it can be seen, both aircraft allow pilots necessary 30 hours per month of training. With Rafale, price will be 495.000 USD, compared to 141.000 for Gripen. Assuming that maximum number of hours is flown by both aircraft (81 for Rafale and 66 for Gripen), cost will be 1.336.500 USD for Rafale and 310.200 USD for Gripen. If Rafale flies 66 hours per month, price will be 1.188.000 USD. Overall, Gripen is better due to lower price, as nothing stops an air force from operating two Gripens for each pilot and achieving 132 hours per month.
Rafale’s primary air-to-air sensor is OSF optical sensor suite on top of the nose, with 80/130 km range. It consists of IRST sensor with 40 km identification range and video camera with 45-50 km identification range. In addition, it has RBE-2 radar with 139/208 km detection range, two fisheye IR MAWS sensors and 4 RWR sensors, as well as laser warners. MAWS and RWR sensors provide spherical coverage, and can be used to generate firing solution. It has framed canopy providing 360* horizontal and 197,7* vertical visibility, including 16* over the nose, 1,7* over the tail and 27* over the sides, with a maximum of 54* over the side visibility. RBE-2 has 120* angular coverage while RBE-2AA (AESA) has 140* angular coverage.
Gripen has no IRST or MAWS. It has PS-05/A radar with 147 km detection range, as well as radar warners. Radar warners can be used for missile approach warning but only against active-RF missiles, and do not offer accurate positioning. It has framed canopy providing 156* horizontal and 185* vertical visibility including 15* over the nose, -10* over the tail and 40* over the sides, with maximum 40* over the side visibility. PS-05/A has 120* angular coverage.
Overall, Rafale has significant advantage in situational awareness, especially during passive operation. It is also less vulnerable to IR missiles.
Stealth can be divided into several areas: visual, radar and IR. Visual stealth refers to how easy is to to see the aircraft with Mk.I eyeball. Radar stealth can refer to two things: aircraft’s radar cross section (RCS), and aircraft’s radar emissions (EMCON). IR stealth refers to aircraft’s IR signature.
In terms of visual signature, Dassault Rafale is 15,3 m long, 5,34 m high with 10,8 m wing span. Gripen is 14,1 m long, 4,5 m high with 8,4 m wing span. Overall Gripen is smaller than Rafale from all aspects, especially from the top.
When it comes to radar signature, whichever jet uses radar is going to be detected well beyond its own radar range and become a target. SPECTRA will give Rafale firing solution with 1* precision at 200 km, while Gripen’s AR-830 RWR has unknown performance. Rafale has 0,15 m2 frontal RCS, which can be reduced to 0,05 m2 with SPECTRA. With 6 missiles, RCS is 0,75-1,15 m2, but could be as low as 0,25 m2 if SPECTRA can compensate for the payload. Gripen has 0,5 m2, and with 6 missiles, RCS is 1,1-1,7 m2. Rafale’s RBE-2 AESA radar entered service in 2012; it has range of 208 km against 1-2 m2 target, or 278 km when assisted by SPECTRA. Field of regard is 140*. Gripen C uses mechanically scanned PS-05A radar with 80 km range against 1m2 target, but in 2015 an upgrade was unvelied which increases its range to 150% of the original, or 120 km against 1 m2 target; radar itself is still mechanically scanned. As a result, Rafale will detect Gripen at 179-239 km. Gripen will detect Rafale at 57-83 km when using original PS-05A radar, or 85-124 km when using upgraded radar. Rafale’s OSF has range of 80 km vs subsonic head-on target at 20.000 ft. At 30.000 ft, range may be 80-90 km, which means that Rafale will be able to attack Gripen from 50-60 km (due to Gripen’s smaller size). That being said, ability of both to attack the opponent will be limited by missile effective range (15-100 km for Meteor, 9-36 km for AIM-120D, 4-16 km for MICA).
In terms of IR signature, primary factors are size, speed and engine emissions. Rafale has two M88 engines producing a total of 97,6 kN on dry thrust and 147,8 kN thrust in reheat, compared to Gripen’s single engine producing 54 kN dry and 80,5 kN in reheat. M88 has secondary cooling channel and outer nozzle which hides hottest part of exhaust plume from the view from some angles. RM-12 has no such cooling channel or external nozzle. Both aircraft are capable of supercruise: Rafale achieves Mach 1,4 with 6 missiles, compared to Mach 1,15 for Gripen. Consequently, Rafale does not have to use as high percentage of dry thrust for equivalent cruise speed, thus reducing difference in IR signature. This advantage is reduced by the fact that Rafale will have 65% larger shock cone profile when supersonic. Rafale also received Hot Spot treatment, further reducing its IR signature.
Rafale M can cruise at Mach 1,4 with 6 missiles. Assuming that 30% of the onboard fuel (1.425 kg) is used for supercruise, Rafale will be able to cruise for 11 minutes (657 seconds). At 35.000 ft, this will allow it to cover 271,7 km (146,7 nm). Maximum combat radius on internal fuel is 925 km, or 1.850 km with 8 MICA and 3×2.200 l tanks. Flight range with external fuel tanks is 3.700 km.
Gripen C can cruise at Mach 1,15 with 6 missiles. Assuming that 30% of the onboard fuel (720 kg) is used for supercruise, Gripen will be able to cruise for 9,3 minutes (558 seconds). At 35.000 ft, this will allow it to cover 164,8 km (89 nm). Maximum combat radius on internal fuel is 800 km, or 1.550 km with external fuel. Flight range with external fuel tanks is 3.200 km.
(Note: actual supercruise endurance can be estimated to be thrice the numbers given here. This speculation is confirmed by F-22 managing 20 minute supercruise. That endurance however likely utilizes far greater percentage of internal fuel than what was assumed in this calculation.).
Dassault Rafale has instantaneous turn rate of 30 deg/s and sustained turn rate of 24 deg/s. Saab Gripen has 30 deg/s instantaneous turn rate and sustained turn rate of 20 deg/s. Rafale can be relatively aerodynamically clean with 2 wingtip and 2 conformal missiles, compared to Gripen’s 2 wingtip missiles. This low-drag payload is more flexible for Rafale, primarily due to larger number of stations. Climb rate is 305 m/s for Rafale and 254 m/s for Gripen, showing that Rafale has better ability to regain energy. Both aircraft have low interference drag due to wing-body blending.
Close coupled canards energize wing, improving control surface effectiveness and wing response to control surfaces. This leads to improved pitch and roll onset rates, especially at high angles of attack, which leads to improved transient performance. However, Rafale’s combination of close-coupled canards and LERX also leads to significant improvement in maximum lift and lift-drag ratio. This is compounded by the shape of Rafale’s air intakes, which redirects boundary layer towards LERX and towards aircraft’s underside. This has dual role of strenghtening LERX and canard root vortices as well as increasing pressure on the aircraft’s bottom, leading to improved lift as well as control at high angles of attack. Rafale’s 48* wing sweep gives it worse lift/drag ratio compared to Gripen’s 45* wing sweep.
(Note that the best way to escape either missile or gun shot is instantaneous turn in order to put the attacker at 3/9 o’clock followed by acceleration, and if necessary another turn. Sustained turns do not have much place in dogfight. In a multi-ship dogfight, no turn should be followed for more than 90 degrees).
During subsonic cruise, canard is unloaded for both close coupled and long arm configuration. This increases lift on trailing edge control surfaces required to keep the nose down, increasing aircraft’s lift/drag ratio. When supersonic, center of lift moves aft, increasing stability. Both Rafale and Gripen have canards which reduce center of pressure shift with increased speed. Consequently, supersonic maneuverability should be similar, with advantage to Rafale due to greater static instability.
In terms of post-stall maneuverability, both aircraft can achieve 100-110* angle of attack, and Gripen can be “parked” at 70-80* AoA, which Rafale should be able to achieve as well. Typical operational angle of attack limit is 32* for Rafale and 26* for Gripen. Both aircraft have close-coupled canard configuration which makes the aircraft basically spin-proof. In both aircraft, passing 30* degree AoA will result in thrust loss due to loss in air flow, as it will separate from intakes.
Rafale’s primary missile is MICA, a dual-role WVR/BVR missile which comes in IR and RF variants. It has 80 km maximum aerodynamic range and 50 g maneuvering capability at Mach 4. Additionally, it will be able to use Meteor as long-range BVR missile; it has 315 km range and 40 g maneuvering capability at Mach 4.
Gripen has a wider selection of weapons. For beyond visual range combat, it can use AMRAAM and ASRAAM, as well as Meteor with the MS21 standard. For within visual range combat, it can use ASRAAM, Sidewinder, IRIS-T and A-Darter. AIM-120D is a RF BVR missile with 180 km maximum aerodynamic range. It has 40 g maneuvering capability at Mach 4. AIM-9X is an IR missile with 26-42 km maximum aerodynamic range and 50 g maneuvering capability at Mach 2,7, but Gripen likely cannot use the latest variants. ASRAAM is an IR missile with 50 km maximum aerodynamic range and 50 g maneuvering capability at Mach 3. IRIS-T is a WVR IR missile with 25 km maximum aerodynamic range and 60 g maneuvering capability at Mach 3.
Overall, Rafale has advantage in maximum missile range due to its higher cruise speed and ceilling. If neither aircraft uses Meteor, then advantage shifts to Gripen due to longer range of AMRAAM compared to MICA (180 vs 80 km). This advantage is negated by the fact that Gripen’s primary BVR missiles all use RF seeker, which means that they can be easily jammed. Meanwhile, ASRAAM is shorter than MICA (60 vs 80 km), and this difference is increased by Rafale’s kinematic advantage. It is somewhat compensated for by ASRAAMs superior maneuverability. Consequently, both aircraft have significant combat capabilities at both beyond and within visual range, with Gripen having superior WVR missiles and Rafale having superior IR BVR missiles. Gripen does have advantage in BVR area in that it has two-way datalink while Rafale only has one-way datalink to its missiles.
Rafale has a standard loadout of 6 missiles (2 MICA IR + 4 MICA RF) and 6,6 gun bursts, for a total of 2,59 onboard kills. Gripen has a standard of 6 missiles (2 IR WVRAAM + 4 RF BVRAAM) and 9,2 gun bursts, for a total of 3,47 onboard kills. Heavy loadout for Rafale is 10 missiles; assuming 8 of these are MICA RF, total number of onboard kills is 2,91. Gripen cannot carry more than 6 missiles. It can be seen that Rafale has disadvantage in total number of kills. Both aircraft also have options for both IR and RF BVRAAM, though IR BVRAAM are of different capabilities. If 1-second gun bursts are assumed, Rafale can fire 3 and Gripen 4,44 gun bursts. This would give Rafale a total of 1,67/1,99 onboard kills and Gripen a total of 2,00 onboard kills. Overall, Gripen has advantage in number of onboard kills.
Numbers in the air
Rafale may allow up to 81 hours per month in the air, compared to 65 hours for Gripen. Expenditure will be 1.336.500 USD per month for Rafale and 305.500 USD per month for Gripen. Assuming equal expenditure, Rafale allows 18 hours per month in the air. As it can be seen, both aircraft allow adequate number of hours, but only if one has the money – and in that case, it is possible to buy 2-4 Gripens for each pilot for the operating price of one Rafale, thus allowing far better training.
Since Rafale costs ~93 million USD unit flyaway, compared to 45 million USD for Gripen, latter has 2,1:1 advantage in number of aircraft, and 1,69:1 advantage in total number of sorties. However, as noted above, difference in operating price may allow Gripen advantage in total number of sorties as high as 4,4:1. This means that Gripen’s advantage in total fleet onboard kills is at least 2,26:1, and possibly as high as 5,89:1.
Response to attacks
Both aircraft are likely capable of taking off the roads. However, Gripen is significantly smaller (8,4 vs 10,8 m wing span) and is designed specifically for operating off the roads. Rafale’s higher maintenance and logistics requirements make successful operation from road bases far less likely. Combat turnaround time for air-to-air mission is 30 minutes for Rafale and 10 minutes for Gripen. In air-to-ground mission, it is 90 minutes for Rafale and 20 minutes for Gripen. Overall, Gripen has significant advantage in both response to attacks and on-ground survivability.
Engagement kill chain performance
Kill chain consists of following steps:
- detection capability
- identification capability
- cruise speed
- maximum speed / mach on entry
- altitude on entry
- lock on / firing solution range
- missile seeker diversity
- endgame countermeasures (inbuilt, towed, disposable; jammers, decoys, chaff, flares)
- defeat the missile / disengage
- airframe agility
- sensors coverage
- mach on egress / fuel reserves on afterburner
- BVR missile seeker diversity
- BVR missile agility
- BVR missile warhead lethality
- WVR missile agility
- WVR missile warhead lethality
- gun lethality
In this area, Rafale may or may not have the advantage. As noted before, by using radar Rafale will detect Gripen at 179-239 km whereas Gripen will detect Rafale at 57-83 or 85-124 km. Since both aircraft have RWR/ESM capable of detecting opponent’s radar or other EM emissions, radar will likely not be used. However, Gripen C does not have IRST, albeit improved Gripen C and Gripen NG will likely have Skyward G IRST, which can be assumed to be superior to Rafale’s OSF. As a result, Rafale will identify and engage basic Gripen C long before Gripen’s pilot gets a visual detection, but Gripen E can be assumed to detect and identify the Rafale first. In clear weather, Rafale may have a minor advantage in identification capability due to OSF having a video camera in addition to IRST sensor. It should be noted that radar-based NCTR is also very unreliable (30% identification reliability at best) and can be disabled by jamming or by target maneuvering. Because of this, 82% of the enemy aircraft engaged during Desert Storm had to be identified with help of AWACS, which will not be avaliable against a competent opponents as comlinks will be jammed, and AWACS aircraft will not survive for long in a proper war; remaining 18% were done by NCTR or IFF (and IFF itself will not be useful against a competent opponent). Consequently, IRST is a must for proper BVR engagement even when all other disadvantages of radar (loss of surprise, easily jammed) are ignored.
(Even assuming that target is a flat plate and that entirety of the signal reaches it, radar will get back 1/16th of the signal – at best. RCS comparison shows automobile to have an RCS of 100 m2 (likely from the side; from the front, 25-50 m2 value can be expected), whereas Rafale and Typhoon have RCS of ~1 m2 when armed. Consequently, enemy radar receives less than 1/400th of the signal that was sent out.)
Rafale has top dash speed of Mach 2,0, identical to Gripen, as it is limited by air intake design. However, Rafale’s service ceilling is 59.055 ft, compared to 52.500 ft for Gripen C. Rafale also has cruise speed of Mach 1,4 which is faster than Gripen’s cruise speed of Mach 1,15. Higher cruise speed and acceleration will also allow Rafale to more quickly reach its top speed, and if both aircraft are at same altitude, Rafale will be better able to regain energy as well as having excess power for maneuvers. Rafale’s ability to engage at higher speeds and altitudes will give it superiority in missile range over Gripen when using same missile types (e.g. Meteor). This advantage will be increased when using IR BVRAAM due to Mica’s longer range when compared to ASRAAM.
As shown before, both aircraft will be able to engage each other at beyond visual range by using either radar or IRST. Rafale has significant advantage in radar detection range, but the situation should be reversed with IRST due to Gripen’s somewhat lower IR signature. Since radar-guided BVRAAM are easy to jam, Rafale’s usage of MICA IR gives it engagement advantage over ASRAAM equipped Gripen.
Both Rafale and Gripen have a selection of RF and IR BVR missiles. However, while ASRAAM has maximum engagement range of 50 km, Rafale’s MICA IR has range of 80 km, giving Rafale range advantage when using IR missiles. This advantage is only increased by Rafale’s kinematic advantage in terms of cruise speed and operating altitude. With conventional RF missiles, basic Gripen C currently has (slight) advantage of using AIM-120C-5 with maximum range of 105 km, compared to MICAs 80 km range; price of this is AIM-120s inferior maneuverability. Gripen C brought up to MS-21 standard can deploy 200-315 km range Meteor; while Rafale can also use it and has range advantage due to higher cruise speed, Gripen has advantage of a two-way datalink. Rafale has cruise speed of Mach 1,4 with air-to-air load, compared to Gripen’s Mach 1,15. At 40.000 ft (most likely altitude for these cruise speeds), Mach 0,25 difference equalizes 143,25 kts difference. As a rule, missile range from the rear is 1/4 of stated missile range, 100 knot speed advantage reduces missile range 5 to 25%, and effective range is 1/5 of aerodynamic range. Consequently, Rafale with MICA will have effective engagement range of 6-7 km against Gripen, while Gripen with ASRAAM will have effective engagement range of 1,6-2,3 km against Rafale. When using Meteor, Rafale will achieve 24-28 km range against Gripen in rear-quarter attacks, while Gripen will achieve 10-15 km range against Rafale in rear-quarter attacks.
Defeat the missile / disengage
Once warned of a missile launch, first reaction is to properly position the aircraft for evasion. At beyond visual range, it is oftentimes enough to turn the aircraft away from the missile. At shorter ranges (near-visual and visual range), pilot has to quickly position the missile to the aircraft’s 3 or 9 o’clock and then turn into the missile once close enough. Both of these require high instantaneous turn capability, as well as acceleration / climb to recover lost energy. Rafale has instantaneous turn rate of 30 deg/s, sustained turn rate of 24 deg/s, maximum climb rate of 305 m/s and roll rate of 290 deg/s. Gripen has instantaneous turn rate of 30 deg/s, sustained turn rate of 20 deg/s, maximum climb rate of 254 m/s and roll rate of 250 deg/s.
Rafale and Gripen both have 360* coverage with RWR, and frontal-sector-only coverage with radar. Unlike Rafale, Gripen C has neither IRST or MAWS, placing it at serious risk against IR missiles. Rafale has 120* angular coverage with RBE-2 and 140* angular coverage with RBE-2AA. Gripen has 60* (?) angular coverage with PS-05/A radar, albeit Gripen E with Raven AESA has 200* angular coverage as well as UV MAWS (which will still place it at disadvantage against Rafale as UV MAWS cannot track missiles that do not have active exhaust plume, such as BVR missiles in the coasting phase). Raven’s extreme field of view will allow Gripen E to maintain target track while engaging in defensive maneuvers, thus reducing enemy’s effective missile range; this does not apply to baseline Gripen C which is the focus of this comparison. Unlike RBE-2AA however, Raven (as with Gripen E) is not yet in service, which means that Rafale currently has advantage in both coverage and engagement range. Rafale will also be able to use SPECTRA to keep track of Gripen during the engagement, as long as Gripen is using its radar.
Another issue is of fuel reserves for maneuvering. Assuming that both aircraft have 40% of the fuel avaliable for maneuvers, Rafale has enough fuel for 4,54 minutes of maximum afterburner while Gripen has enough fuel for 3,93 minutes of maximum afterburner. However, using a number of maneuvers that can be done for a certain amount of fuel is superior indicator of endurance as higher-performance aircraft can afford to throttle down and extend endurance; this may not have much impact in this case due to aircrafts’ similar performance. Comparison will assume 360* corner-speed sustained turn followed by an equivalent of 10.000 m climb at maximum (initial) climb speed. Rafale will use 15 seconds for a turn, 32,79 seconds for a climb and 0,62 seconds for equivalent of a 180* roll at maximum rate, for a total of 48,41 seconds of maximum afterburner and 5,63 maneuvers. Gripen will use 18 seconds for a turn, 39,37 seconds for a climb and 0,72 seconds for equivalent of a 180* roll at maximum rate, for a total of 58,09 seconds of maximum afterburner and 4,06 maneuvers. If instantaneous turn is used, then both aircraft will utilize 12 seconds for an equivalent of 360* turn at maximum turn rate (actual turn length will depend on speed loss during instantaneous turn), leading to 45,41 seconds and 6 maneuvers for Rafale and 52,09 seconds and 4,53 maneuvers for Gripen. As it can be seen, Rafale has higher combat endurance. (Note here that this is based on sea-level figures; at 30.000 ft, actual thrust and fuel consumption will be closer to 1/3rd of those used, which will extend endurance. However, relative figures should stay similar, and turn rates will also decrease).
In terms of countermeasures, Rafale has onboard AESA jammers, chaff and flares; SPECTRA is also capable of reducing aircraft’s RCS through active cancellation, though this is likely only an option against older-type radars. It does make it immune to home-on-jam mode of modern missiles. Gripen has chaff and flares; jammers if used are completely disposable, which offers protection against RF missile’s home-on-jam mode. Some Gripen C variants (e.g. used by Hungary) also have advanced internal jammers, but these are most likely omnidirectional, thus reducing effectiveness.
In terms of agility, AIM-120C-5 can pull 30 g at Mach 4 (and can hold it for 4,5 s at most), Meteor can pull 40 g at Mach 4, ASRAAM can pull 50 g at Mach 3 and MICA IR can pull 50 g at Mach 4. This means that maximum turn rate is 13,91 deg/s for AIM-120C-5, 18,54 deg/s for Meteor, 30,9 deg/s for ASRAAM and 23,2 deg/s for MICA IR. Comparing this to respective aircraft turn rates (30 deg/s instantaneous for both), it can be seen that both aircraft have a good chance of evading any of the missiles listed.
AIM-120C has warhead weight of 20 kg, compared to 12 kg for MICA and 10 kg for ASRAAM. Consequently, lack of agility is somewhat compensated for by larger warhead weight; still, even assuming a perfectly cylindrical propagation pattern, AIM-120C has 1,4 times as large lethal radius as ASRAAM while latter has 2,22 times as high turn rate.
When it comes to WVR missiles, Rafale carries MICA IR as well while Gripen carries either ASRAAM, IRIS-T, Sidewinder or Darter. As calculated before, MICA IR has turn rate of 23,2 deg/s while ASRAAM has turn rate of 30,9 deg/s. IRIS-T can pull 60 g at Mach 3, for 37,07 deg/s ITR, which is significantly superior to either of other two missiles, and actually superior to instantaneous turn rates of either Gripen or Rafale. Darter can pull 100 g at Mach 4 for 46,36 deg/s ITR. MICA has 12 kg warhead, compared to 10 kg for ASRAAM and 11,4 kg for IRIS-T. Overall, Gripen has significantly superior WVR missiles and more maneuverable IR BVRAAM, while Rafale has advantage in engagement range and warhead lethality when using IR BVRAAM.
In terms of gun lethality, both aircraft are equipped with revolver guns. Rafale uses GIAT-30 while Gripen uses BK-27. GIAT-30 fires 275 g projectile with 17,5% HEI content (~48 g) at 1.025 m/s muzzle velocity, giving muzzle energy of 144,5 kJ. Projectile has crossectional density of 38,9 g/cm2. BK-27 fires 260 g projectile with 15% HEI content (39 g) at 1.100 m/s muzzle velocity, giving muzzle energy of 157,3 kJ. Projectile has crossectional density of 45,4 g/cm2. GIAT 30 has advantage in rate of fire (2.500 vs 1.700 rpm), allowing it to fire 19 projectiles in one burst, compared to 13 for BK-27. This means that GIAT 30 has per-burst throw weight of 5,23 kg with 0,91 kg of HEI and burst energy of 2,75 MJ, while BK-27 has throw weight of 3,38 kg with 0,51 kg of HEI and burst energy of 2,04 MJ. Overall, higher rate of fire, throw weight / muzzle energy and HEI content gives lethality advantage to GIAT 30, but BK-27 has advantage in effective range due to higher muzzle velocity and denser projectiles.
Both aircraft have good visual search capability as canards are positioned far back and do not obstruct view of the ground (unlike in Typhoon). In such circumstances, Gripen’s limited rearward visibility is not a problem either. Rafale currently has the advantage of AESA radar, but both aircraft can use surveillance and targeting pods. Both Damocles and Litening pods offer high resolution IR imaginery and laser designation, and can overall be considered comparable.
Rafale with external air-to-ground weapons has combat radius of 530-630 km on air-to-ground mission (530 km lo-lo-lo, 630 km lo-hi-lo). Rafale achieves 1.090 km combat radius in low-level penetration w/ 12×250 kg bombs, 4 MICA, 3×380 US gal tanks.
Gripen with external weapons and tanks has 630 km combat radius in lo-lo-lo mission.
Rafale can carry a total of 9.500 kg of payload on 14 external hardpoints, of which 5 can carry fuel tanks or bombs. Additional two are avaliable for various pods, leaving 7 for missiles for self-defense.
Gripen can carry a total of 5.300 kg of payload on 7 external hardpoints, of which 3 can carry fuel tanks or bombs. Two wingtip hardpoints are only available for missiles, and two for pods.
As noted before, Gripen has 2,1:1 advantage in number of aircraft, and 1,69:1 advantage in total number of sorties. Difference in operating price may allow Gripen advantage in total number of sorties as high as 4,4:1. Consequently, Gripens can carry between 94% and 245% of the payload that Rafales can carry. However, this does not necessarily correspond to the payload delivered on target (pods and fuel tanks vs munitions, number of aircraft vs number of targets, losses in getting to target) and depending on mission requirements, advantage may go either way.
In terms of munition types, Rafale has Apache (anti-runway cruise missile with cluster submunitions), SCALP AG (based on Apache but with bunker-buster HE warhead), AASM (dumb bombs with guidance kits), Paveway (laser-guided bombs), AS-30 (bunker-busting air-to-ground missile), Exocet (anti-ship missile), Perseus (cruise missile, under development). Gripen has Maverick (EO, laser or IR guided air-to-ground missile used against vehicles), Taurus (bunker-busting cruise missile), RBS-15 (air-to-surface missile, primarily anti-ship), Paveway II (laser-guided bombs), BK90 (gliding stand-off cluster bomblet dispenser), Mk82 (unguided bomb). Overall there is not much practical difference.
Rafale has better survivability than Gripen in air-to-ground missions, primarily due to more extensive self-protection suite and twin-engined configuration.
Performance in specific misisons
In deep strike, Rafale has advantage of range. In close air support, main requirement is ability to fly and maneuver low and slow in order to engage targets with gun. In this, Rafale has some advantage due to usage of more destructive 30 mm gun. Both aircraft are however highly vulnerable to small arms fire, meaning that they are unlikely to be used in this role. In SEAD, Rafale has advantage of superior electronic warfare suite. As standoff attacks may not be effective due to SAM mobility, both aircraft will need to utilize low-altitude attacks, in which area Rafale has survivability advantage of twin-engined configuration.
Ground survivability includes possibility of camouflage and ability to operate from road bases. Latter includes STOL capability, wingspan limits, fuel consumption and ease of maintenance considerations. Wingspan should not be greater than 8,74 meters.
Rafale can take off in 590 meters (rolling takeoff) and land in 490 meters. Wingspan is 10,8 meters. Fuel consumption is 1.330 kg/h (?) kg/h cruise, 7.808 kg/h at maximum dry thrust and 25.126 kg/h afterburning. Turnaround time is 30 minutes in air-to-air and 90 minutes in air-to-ground role.
Gripen can take off in 500 meters and land in 500 meters. Wingspan is 8,4 meters. Fuel consumption is 1.100 (?) kg/h cruise, 4.646 kg/h at maximum dry thrust and 14.664 kg/h afterburning. Turnaround time is 10 minutes in air-to-air and 20 minutes in air-to-ground role.
As it can be seen, there is major difference in aircraft on-ground survivability in Gripen’s favor. Gripen also requires far smaller maintenance support and far less fuel for operations, leading to reduced logistical footprint.
While Rafale is superior in tactical capability, Gripen’s lower logistical footprint and superior on-ground survivability make it superior in any war against a competent opponent, as the best aircraft in the world is useless if it cannot take off. Gripen’s lower logistical footpring and operating cost also mean that any air force will find it easier to properly train its pilots, which gives it a large advantage since human factors far outweight hardware factors in an actual shooting war. Overall, Rafale’s tactical advantage given by its superior raw performance is negated by Gripen’s strategic advantage.
Effective range is calculated by formula (RCS1/RCS2) = (R1/R2)^4, where RCS = radar cross section, while R=range.
Rafale vs Gripen, RBE-2 AESA
208 km vs 2 m2 target, Gripen 1,1 m2
278 km vs 1 m2 target, Gripen 1,7 m2
(RCS1/RCS2) = (R1/R2)^4
(1,1/2) = (X/208)^4
4rt(1,1/2) = X/208
X = 208 * 4rt(1,1/2)
X = 179 km
X = 278 * 4rt(1,1/2)
X = 239 km
Gripen vs Rafale, PS-05A
80 km vs 1 m2 target, Rafale 0,25 m2
120 km vs 1m2 target, Rafale 1,15 m2
(RCS1/RCS2) = (R1/R2)^4
(0,25/1) = (X/80)^4
X = 80 * 4rt(0,25)
X = 57 km
X = 80 * 4rt(1,15)
X = 83 km
X = 120 * 4rt (0,25)
X = 85 km
X = 120 * 4rt(1,15)
X = 124 km
It should also be noted that some of the capabilities of Gripen C discussed above (AESA radar, Meteor etc.) apply only to Gripen C brought up to the Gripen E standard.