Military Aviation

Here’s why Rafale or Typhoon fighters equipped with Meteor air-to-air missile are not a credible threat for the F-35

Meteor is only good if you’ve no trouble detecting your target which isn’t the case against VLO aircraft. In fact, IR missiles like ASRAAM is far bigger threat to F-22 and F-35 than any radar-guided missile.

Developed by a group of European partners led by MBDA, the Meteor is the next generation of Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) system designed to revolutionise air-to-air combat in the 21st Century. The weapon brings together six nations (UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden) with a common need to defeat the threats of today as well as the future emerging ones.

The Meteor is aimed to equip Eurofighter Typhoon, Rafale and Gripen. It is also compatible with other advanced fighter aircraft and will be integrated to the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. Meteor’s stunning performance is achieved through its unique ramjet propulsion system – solid fuel, variable flow, ducted rocket. This ‘ramjet’ motor provides the missile with thrust all the way to target intercept, providing the largest No-Escape Zone of any air-to-air missile.

Nevertheless, a 4th generation fighter such as a Eurofighter Typhoon or a Dassault Rafale armed with the Meteor does not represent a real threat for an F-35.

‘Meteor may pose a challenge to [other 4th generation fighters such as the] F-15 and F-16, but it won’t matter against F-35. Longer range is irrelevant when you’ll never be in a position to utilize it. Neither Typhoon nor Rafale has any means of getting a targeting solution against a VLO aircraft outside 20 to 30 km, which is the maximum range of PIRATE & OSF-IT’s laser range finder,’ Abhirup Sengupta, an aviation expert, says on Quora.

‘We see this in large scale exercises time and again, the F-22 and F-35 kill 4th gen. aircraft with very capable radars and IR sensor without them ever knowing where they were shot at.

‘It’s simple physics that F-35 (-40 dBsm) has over 10,000 times smaller RCS than Typhoon and Rafale in combat config. (>1 m^2), equating to more than 10 times smaller detection range. The difference is just too big to be compensated by any means. Even if Typhoon and Rafale has AWACS support, it’ll be of little help.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

‘Both Typhoon and Rafale like every other 4th gen. aircraft is at such a distinct disadvantage in terms of Situational Awareness that in vast majority of cases the first time they’ll be aware of F-35’s presence is when they’re painted by an AIM-120D.

‘Even the best IRST in the world can’t change the outcome. OSF-IT’s IR channel was removed in [Rafale] F3R and while Typhoon’s PIRATE is capable, an IRST’s small FoV [Field of View] makes it highly inefficient to perform volume-search. It’s like looking at the sky through a drinking straw. This is why in practice IRSTs are largely restricted to cued-searches and that is the only place where they can reach close to their advertised figures.

‘They’ve been standard for Aggressor aircraft in large scale exercises from a decade now, they didn’t really change the dynamics. The biggest challenge for Typhoon and Rafale is detecting F-35 from a meaningful range and even if they get lucky, getting a targeting solution outside 25 km is close to impossible.

‘Meteor is only good if you’ve no trouble detecting your target which isn’t the case against VLO aircraft. In fact, IR missiles like ASRAAM is far bigger threat to F-22 and F-35 than any radar-guided missile. While F-35 definitely has much smaller IR signature than any 4th gen. aircraft, it’s not the same as its RCS.

‘This is not to say that VLO aircraft are in any way immune to radar guided missiles but even in close to visual range, it’s much harder for a radar seeker to track F-35 than it is for an Imaging IR seeker.’

Sengupta concludes;

‘Unfortunately for Rafale and Typhoon, they’re never going to live that long in real world. You really don’t want to be facing F-35 in any 4th gen. aircraft. Meteor or not, it won’t really make a difference.’

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and MBDA

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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