French defense minister Hervé Morin last week announced that 300 million euros will be spent to modernize the French Navy’s ten oldest Rafale Marine fighters, which were initially delivered to F1 standard. "We will proceed with the modernization of these aircraft to bring them to the same standard as the Rafale now emerging from the Dassault production line," Morin said during a visit last week to the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.
Funded under the government’s Economic Recovery Plan, the retrofit program, originally expected around 2012, will now be brought forward to 2010. Ten F1 aircraft are concerned, which were delivered to the Naval Aviation from July 1999.
While aircraft M1 is still flying for the purpose of testing new equipment, M2 to M10 have been mothballed at the Landivisiau naval air station. Having only air defense capabilities, these aircraft have already undergone the upgrade to F3 standard. The idea is to keep the airframe and all suitable equipment, while removing obsolete parts and integrating these F1 aircraft into the F3 assembly line. The duration of a F1-to-F3 retrofit will be between 12 and 18 months.
This method will generate ten upgraded aircraft with which to gradually replace the Modernized Super Etendard (SEM) fighters now operated by squadron 11F and due for retirement.
While the rate of Rafale production for the French armed forces remains uncertain because of potential export orders, the Naval Aviation Command has as yet only received a small number of Rafale. After the accidental loss of M22 and M25 in September, only 16 Rafale remain in navy service. Two of them were directly delivered to Standard F3, while the others have been upgraded from F2 to F3 standard.