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Rafale vs F-35: Which is the Most Powerful Fighter Jet

The Dassault Rafale and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II are two of the most advanced fighter jets in the world. While both aircraft are designed to perform a wide range of missions, there are significant differences between the two. Both these aircraft are designed and developed with different philosophies and capabilities in mind. 

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Here is a detailed comparison of the Rafale and F-35:

Design and Capabilities:

The Rafale is an omnirole fighter aircraft designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. It has a delta wing design with close coupled canards and is capable of supersonic speeds, making it highly maneuverable. 

Design and Production of Rafale Jet
Design and Production of Rafale Fighter Aircraft (Image: Flickr, Courtesy: Matt Morgan)

Also Read:

French Rafale Fighter Jet – An In-Depth Analysis

The F-35, on the other hand, is a fifth-generation stealth fighter aircraft designed primarily for air-to-ground missions. It has a stealthy design that makes it difficult to detect on modern radars and can perform a wide range of missions, including air-to-air combat, intelligence gathering, and electronic warfare in highly sophisticated battle environments. 

American F-35
American F-35


The Rafale is powered by two Snecma M88-2 new-generation turbofan engines, while the F-35 is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan engine. The F-35’s engine is more powerful than the M88 and provides the F-35 with an unmatched performance during flight. However, the Rafale’s two engines provide it with greater redundancy and make it more reliable.

Rafale Fighter Jet new M88 Engine
Rafale M88, The New Generation Engine (Image: Dassault Aviation)

The two M88-2 engines provide Rafale with 2x75kN of thrust with a maximum speed of Mach 1.8. The engine is equipped with ‘Full Authority Digital Engine Control’ (FADEC).

The F-35’s Pratt & Whitney F135 engine is the most advanced in the world. With more than 40,000 lbs of thrust, unmatched low-observable signature, world-class thermal management and most advanced integrated engine control system ever created. The F135 engine is a marvel of modern engineering, from design and development to production and sustainment, it is a pinnacle of combat propulsion. 

Pratt & Whitney F135 Engine
Pratt & Whitney F135 Engine


Both aircraft are equipped with a wide range of weapons, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, bombs, and guns. 

The Rafale is equipped with the MICA and METEOR air-to-air missiles, as well as the SCALP air-to-ground missile. The F-35 is equipped with the AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, as well as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) air-to-ground missile.

F-35A Lightning II Carrying Weapons in the Internal Weapons Bay
F-35A Lightning II Carrying Weapons in the Internal Weapons Bay


The F-35 is equipped with the most advanced avionics suite of any fighter aircraft in the world, including the AN/APG-81 AESA radar, which provides the F-35 with unparalleled situational awareness. The Rafale is equipped with the RBE2 AESA radar, which is also highly advanced but not as capable as the AN/APG-81.

In addition, F-35 also carries on-board the highly advanced AN/ASQ-242 communications, navigation, and identification suit manufactured by Northrop Grumman, AN/ASQ-239 Barracuda Electronic Warfare System developed by BAE Systems, AN/AAQ-37 Distributed Aperture System (DAS) jointly produced by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon and AN/AAQ-40 Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) by Lockheed Martin.

According to Dassault Aviation, the Rafale’s ‘multi-sensor data fusion’ process runs on data provided by all sensors of the aircraft. The multi-sensor data fusion concept implemented into Rafale allows the pilot to act as a true “tactical decision maker”, rather than being only a sensor operator. 

Rafale B on ground
Rafale B on the ground (Image: Dassault Aviation)

Rafale carries on-board with advanced SPECTRA internal electronic warfare suite, front sector optronics (FSO), targeting and laser designation pod (TALIOS) and AREOS reconnaissance pod. Using these advanced systems, Dassault introduced a ‘multi-sensor data fusion’ technology that helps pilots to reduce workload, increase situational awareness, and quick response in highly contested battle environments.

Stealth capabilities:

Both the Rafale and the F-35 are designed to have low observable or stealth capabilities, which can help them evade detection by enemy radars. However, the F-35’s stealth design is more advanced and comprehensive than the Rafale’s, and it is expected to receive upgrades that will further improve its stealth capabilities.

Operational Comparison:

The F-35 is operating from 26 air bases from around the world while 500+ jets have been produced so far. 

The United States Air Force (USAF) considers the F-35 a prime strike fighter for conducting the suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) missions. 

F-35A Lightening II Operational Capabilities
F-35A Lightening II Operational Capabilities

Rafale on the other hand is a battle proven aircraft. It was deployed in Afghanistan during the Afghan war between 2007 to 2011, where it carried out successful air-to-ground missions. The aircraft also took part in the operations in Libya, Mali, Iraq, and Syria. 


The F-35 fighter aircraft was produced as part of a $1.5 trillion weapon program, the largest weapon program in human history. The US has spent more than $50 billion on its research & development program before the aircraft even entered service. 

The F-35 is significantly more expensive than the Rafale, with a unit cost of around $80-90 million compared to the Rafale’s unit cost of around $70-80 million.

Future Upgrades:

The F-35 is the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world right now and provides a base for the development of future 6th-generation aircraft.

On the other hand, the new F4 standard in Rafale includes radar and Front Sector Optronics (FSO) upgrades, helmet-mounted sight capability, Mica-NG air-to-air missiles, and 1000 kg AASM/HAMMER air-to-ground weapons. Also, the new F4 standard provides new connectivity solutions in net-centric combat and paves the way for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS). The timeline for this new aircraft is 2024.

Rafale Fighter Jet way ahead
Rafale Aircraft, way ahead (Image: Dassault Aviation)


The major difference between the two aircraft is their generations. The F-35 is a 5th generation with advanced stealth capabilities, while Dassault Rafale being a 4.5 generation is less stealth and less advanced.  

Overall, both the Rafale and F-35 are highly advanced fighter jets, with different design philosophies and capabilities. The Rafale is designed to perform a wide range of missions. 

Ultimately, the choice between the two aircraft will depend on the specific mission requirements and budget constraints.


  1. Global Defense Analysis
  2. Military Watch Magazine

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