Fighter Jet Fight Club: Rafale vs. Silent Eagle

Comparing the aircraft in this weeks Fighter Jet Fight Club is a little bit like comparing the cuisine from their respective countries.

French cuisine tends to come across as more sophisticated.  The Rafale shares this trait.  It is a modern looking design that blends together the latest in technology, aerodynamics, and building techniques to construct an aircraft that is not only functional, but often praised for its aesthetic value as well.  Most would agree that the Rafale is indeed a fine looking airplane.  Presentation is quite important in French Haute Cuisine, after all.

By comparison, the F-15SE Silent Eagle is an all-you-can-eat buffet at Golden Corral.  It may not entice the most sophisticated of palates, but there is a little bit of everything there, and you certainly will not walk away hungry.  The F-15SE satisfies your hunger by dishing out generous helpings of whatever you happen to be in the mood for.

Before we take a look at the menus, remember the rules, and don't forget to tip your server.


Interdiction/Penetration:  Hors d'oeuvres are typically served before the meal, in the time between the guests arrive and the main course is served.  These bite-sized morsels are intended to stimulate the appetite while leaving room for the entree.  The Rafale's sophisticated SPECTRA electronic warfare suite uses a combination of systems to evade and disrupt enemy sensors.  

If the Rafale is a fancy hors d'oeuvre, than the F-15SE is basket full of spicy jalapeƱo poppers.  It certainly does not look intimidating, but that is because the excitement is contained inside the plain beige exterior.  By keeping its weapons inside its conformal weapons bays, the F-15SE reduces its RCS considerably.  The Silent Eagle also adds a little bit of sophistication to the mix, as it is also has the option of carrying electronic warfare equipment.

With the option to go fully into "stealth mode", the F-15SE wins this one.  Advantage:  F-15SE

Deep Strike:  A proper meal needs a proper beverage.  Instead of wine, the Rafale brings more than enough jet fuel to the party.  It also brings some rather impressive potent potables such as the SCALP EG ALCM.

If the Rafale brings a carafe full of bordeaux, than the F-15SE brings a Super Big Gulp full of Mountain Dew.  If that was not enough, its conformal fuel tanks act the same as a beer helmet, providing the Silent Eagle with plenty of liquid refreshment.  When it comes time to share, the F-15SE forgoes anything fancy.  Its AGM-158 JASSM ER is the equivalent of a hip flask full of Jack Daniels.  It goes anywhere, and it is sure to get the job done.  

With a longer range and the more potent ALCM, the Silent Eagle belches out a win here.  Advantage:  F-15SE

Payload:  French food is known of being decadently rich.  Lots of butter, sauce, and fat.  The Rafale echoes this.  Despite being a medium-size fighter, it carries a full-size payload. Able to carry 21,000lbs, it easily exceeds that of the similar sized Eurofighter Typhoon and F-35.  

The Silent Eagle represents America however.  It simply will not be outdone when it comes to portion sizes.  This is the country that invented the Supersized Double Bic Mac combo, after all.  The F-15SE is a full-sized fighter, yet even then its payload is a claimed 29,500lbs.  

The Rafale may be a five-course meal, but the F-15SE is an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Advantage:  F-15SE

Close air support:  For the close air support role, the Rafale is as attentive as a French waiter.  Able to fly low over your shoulder, it can help you with your menu selection of precision guided smart bombs.

By contrast, the F-15SE is the attendant at a drive-through window.  Flying high and fast it is more about convenience than personal service.  You will get your food, but it will be delivered at arms length and your server will be far away by the time you get to your meal.  

With its ability to stay closer to the troops, the Rafale wins this one.  Just be sure to tip.  Advantage:  Rafale

Air-to-ground winner:  The F-15SE can fly further, with a heavier bomb load, and it has the option of internal weapon storage to allow it access to well defended areas.  The Rafale is the better close-air-support aircraft, as it is better at flying low and slow.  This is not enough to make up for its disadvantage against the F-15SE, however.  Winner:  F-15SE Silent Eagle.


First look, first kill:  Proper french cuisine takes time and preparation.  Even the kitchen needs to set up in a certain way so that ingredients are accessible in the right order, at the right time.  French cooks call this mise en place.  It is known in English as "a place for everything, and everything in its place".  The Rafale echoes this.  Its various sensors give it a great view of the air space around it.  Its AESA radar is similar in size used by the Super Hornet and F-35.  Not huge, but just the right size.  The Rafale does have an impressive RCS, and its ability to supercruise means it can travel faster while keeping its IR signature down.  

If the Rafale is a well organized kitchen, the Silent Eagle is a big southern barbecue with an industrial sized deep-fat-fryer.  Its AESA radar is about 50% bigger than the Rafale's while presenting a smaller RCS.  Food is cooked fast simply because of high heat and a large grill.  The F-15SE pays a penalty however, as its IR signature is substantially higher than the Rafale's.  This is exacerbated by the Silent Eagle's need to use its afterburner to go supersonic.  

While the Silent Eagle plays a superior radar game, the Rafale has an advantage when it comes to IR. For this reason, I will call the aircraft equal.  Radar does have a longer range than IRST, but it can be jammed or evaded much easier.  Advantage:  Tie

Beyond visual range:  Finally, we get to the entree.  The Rafale has IR or RR guided MICA missiles, as well as the latest in haute cuisine, the MBDA Meteor.  Better still the, Rafale can fly high and fast to give those missiles a little bit of extra energy.  

The F-15SE has a reputation to uphold here.  Its larger radar should give it a clear advantage, but it is let down somewhat by its missiles.  The AIM-120D AMRAAM is a damn good missile.  Possibly the equivalent of a Five Guys double-bacon cheeseburger.  Not fancy, but it uses a two-way datalink to help find its target and a two-stage rocket to make sure it hits.

Its only weakness against the Silent Eagle here is its smaller radar, but that disadvantage becomes moot because it will need to get within the Rafale's sensor range (about 50-100km) in order to fire it.  The Rafale has the better missile (arguably, I know) with the Meteor but it lacks a two-way data link and the sheer size of the F-15SE's radar.  This one is too close to call.  Advantage:  Tie

Within visual range:  The Rafale has a tasty side dish of Mica missiles.  The big question here is whether or not it will be equipped with an HMD.  The Rafale has been tested with the TopSight HMD, but this has not been made operational nor are there any immediate plans.  Previous plans to adopt the Gerfaut HMD were shelved.  For now, the Rafale needs to rely on either its IRST or a data-link lock from another aircraft to fire HOBS missiles.  

The F-15 does have its usual array of familiar AIM-9 Sidewinders.  HMD has been on the F-15 for a while now, and the Silent Eagle will not be any different.  According the Boeing, the Silent Eagle will have an integrated IRST, a step up from the external pod on older models.  

Both aircraft are quite agile, with capable missiles and sensors.  If the Rafale has a HMD, then this is a case of Steak Frites vs Steak and fries.  Advantage:  Tie

Dogfight:  Sometimes you just have to put the knife and fork down and use your hands and teeth.  For this, the Rafale prefers to take bigger bites with it 30mm cannon.  The Silent Eagle takes small, 20mm nibbles by comparison, but it can do so for a lot longer with more ammo.

Rafale may have the slight edge here, being a more modern fly-by-wire design, but the F-15SE is no slouch.  It was designed to be a dogfighter thanks to lessons learned from the Vietnam air war.  It is also a tough dish to chew, with one F-15 making it safely home after losing a wing.

This one is another tie.  What the Silent Eagle lacks in agility, it makes up for in toughness.  Advantage:  Tie

Air-to-air winner:  The F-15SE may be Guy Fieri next to the Rafale's more sophisticated Julia Childs, but both are strong in flavor when it comes to aerial combat.  This one is a draw.  Winner:  Tie


Flexibility:  French cooking relies heavily on different seasoning.  A simple change in spices or sauces can completely change the characteristics of a dish.  The Rafale is no different, billed as an "omnirole fighter" the Rafale's mission can change dramatically simply by changing its weapon load out.  Air superiority fighter, maritime defense, recon, precision strike, even aerial refueling.  The availability of a carrier version adds even more depth.

By contrast, the Silent Eagle is simple salt (air superiority) and pepper (ground attack).  It fulfills these roles extremely well, but those looking for something more should look elsewhere.

KFC sells a lot of poultry, but good luck finding one that sells Foie Gras.  If you are looking for a varied menu of items, it is best to go French.  Advantage:  Rafale

Logistics:  French food is quite exclusive.  Only sparkling wine originating from a certain French province can all itself Champagne, and do not believe anyone trying to sell you a locally sourced Bordeaux.  The Rafale only uses genuine French ingredients, including Snecma engines and Thales radar.  Good luck finding those at your local Loblaws.  Thankfully French cooking is accessible to everyone, with plenty of cookbooks available.  Dassault has offered the same by offering Rafale customers its "cookbook" of intellectual property and technology transfer.  

While McDonalds may not be the epitome of fine dining, there is a pretty good chance you live within a half-hour's drive from one.  The F-15 may not be the McDonalds of jet fighters (that would be the F-16) but it should be considered at least the Burger King.  F-15 customers all over the world have had it there way by ordering regional specific variants like the F-15I (Israel), F-15SG (Singapore) and F-15J (Japan).  American defense contractors are quite tightlipped regarding military technology, however.  The F-15SE's "secret blend of herbs and spices" will likely stay that way to the customer.  Advantage:  Tie

Flexibility/Logistics winner:  The Rafale performs a lot more roles and requires less fuel and runway to operate.  The F-15SE has a more accessible parts chain.  The Rafale ultimately wins this one, however, as Dassault's willingness to "open source" the Rafale gives it a slight edge here.  Winner:  Rafale

Final Score:

Air-to-ground:  Rafale=1  -  Silent Eagle=3
Air-to-air:  Rafale=4  -  Silent Eagle=4
Flexibility/Logistics:  Rafale=2  -  Silent Eagle=1

Final Result:  Rafale=7  -  Silent Eagle=8

The sophisticated Rafale may be more refined, but the Eagle offers a healthier portion smothered with cheese and bacon.  Both aircraft are excellent at what they do, but the F-15SE comes out by concentrating on the basics.  Foie Gras and sweetbreads may not be to everyone's tastes, but just about everyone can enjoy some BBQ ribs with a side of corn on the cob...  Unless you are a vegetarian.

Had your fill?  Got a bone to pick?  Want to chew me out?  Fill out the comment card below.

[NOTE:  Please keep your comments related to the F-15SE or Rafale.  Repeated mentions of other fighters will be deleted.  All of you Gripen and Super Hornet fans should have it out of your system after last week!]


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