Since the beginning of January, Dassault Aviation and Team Rafale have participated to an extensive test campaign aiming to determine the performance of its fighter, the Rafale Marine, to take to the air from an aircraft carrier equipped not with catapults as for the PAN Charles de Gaulle of the French Navy, but with a springboard, or ski jump, like those which equip the two aircraft carriers of the Indian Navy, the INS Vikramaditya already in service and the INS Vikrant, the first aircraft carrier of local invoice which ends these sea trials. If the French teams displayed real serenity as to the results expected during these tests, it still remained for the aircraft to demonstrate not only its ability to take to the air from such a springboard, but also to determine what the operational capabilities and the limitations resulting from such a procedure, particularly in terms of fuel and armament carrying capacity.
As usual, Dassault Aviation is not very verbose about the results recorded, contenting itself with pithy press releases signifying that everything is going as planned. But a photo published on Indian social networks tells us more about the performance of the device in this configuration, suggesting that the Rafale would be close to being as comfortable on a springboard as with a catapult. Indeed, this photo shows the Rafale M dedicated to the tests in an impressive payload configuration, with two 2000-litre subsonic canisters, 2 medium-range Mica EM missiles, two self-defense Mica IR missiles, and an anti-ship missile AM-39 Exocet under the fuselage, a configuration completely comparable to that implemented by the French Navy from the Charles de Gaulle for anti-ship missions.
This snapshot, which there is no reason to doubt was taken after takeoff from the Goa Ski Jump test, shows that the Rafale is capable of carrying heavy loads, more than 5,5 tons in external loading, and therefore to reach a maximum take-off weight in the Skijump configuration between 20 and 21 tonnes, i.e. a weight very close to that commonly used on board the French aircraft carrier. Above all, in this configuration, the Rafale has an exceptional operational range of nearly 1000 km, much higher than that which can be reached, for example, by the J-15s deployed from the Chinese Navy's aircraft carriers. Indeed, if the J-15 has a maximum take-off weight estimated at 27 tons, it also has an empty weight of 17 tons, and must expend considerably more energy, and therefore fuel, to stay in flight than the Rafale and its 10,5 tons empty. In addition, the Rafale's M88 turbojet is renowned for its low fuel consumption, which is not the case with the Russian and then Chinese turbojets that power the J-15s of the APL Naval Air Group.
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