The Dassault Rafale (squall) is a French twin-engine, canard delta-wing, multirole fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation. Dassault describes the Rafale as being an omnirole fighter, with a high level of agility, capable of simultaneously performing air supremacy, interdiction, reconnaissance, and airborne nuclear deterrent missions. The Rafale is distinct from other European fighters of its era in that it is almost entirely built by one country, involving most of France's major defence contractors, such as Dassault, Thales and Safran.
In the late 1970s, the French Air Force and Navy were seeking to replace and consolidate their current fleets of aircraft. In order to reduce development costs and boost prospective sales, France entered into an arrangement with four other European nations to produce an agile multi-purpose fighter. Subsequent disagreements over workshare and differing requirements led to France's pursuit of its own development program. Dassault built a technology demonstrator which first flew in July 1986 as part of an eight-year flight-test programme, paving the way for the go-ahead of the project.
The Rafale's design and production processes exploited the unprecedented advancements in software technology. These advancements have enabled the integration of formerly individual components and combined with intelligent automated analysis processes, known collectively as data fusion. Many of the aircraft's avionics and features, such as direct voice input, the RBE2 AA active electronically scanned array radar and the Optronique secteur frontal infra-red search and track sensor, were indigenously developed and produced for the Rafale programme. Originally scheduled to enter service in 1996, post-Cold War budget cuts and changes in priorities contributed to significant delays to the programme.
Introduced in 2001, the Rafale is being produced for both the French Air Force and for carrier-based operations in the French Navy. While the Rafale has been marketed for export to several countries, it has only been selected for purchase by the Indian Air Force. The Rafale has been used in combat over Afghanistan, Libya, and Mali; features such as the SPECTRA integrated defensive-aids system have been crucial advantages in these theatres. Several upgrades to the radar, engines, and avionics of the Rafale are planned to be introduced in the near future.