Protection of the Rafale is entrusted to the SPECTRA (Self-Protection Equipment to Counter Threats for Rafale Aircraft), a multi-spectral integrated defensive aids suite that has been developed by Thales in partnership with MBDA.
SPECTRA works across the electromagnetic, laser and infrared domains, employing smart data fusion from multi-spectral sensors to provide identification, location, jamming and decoying against a wide range of threats.
SPECTRA is built on a system of receivers and countermeasures. RF (radio frequency) detectors employ sophisticated techniques such as interferometry for high-precision direction-of-arrival and passive ranging, and digital frequency memory for signal coherence. The system also employs accurate laser warning detectors with direction-finding capability, and a passive infrared missile warning system. Data from all three sensor suites are fused and processed by a central computer, which prioritises and activates the relevant countermeasures, based upon comparison between the received signals and an onboard threat library.
RF jamming is transmitted through active phased antennas. Employment of this advanced technology allows the jamming signal to be concentrated in the sector where it is needed, not only increasing its effectiveness, but also reducing the probability of intercept by the adversary’s own sensors. In addition to RF jammers, the SPECTRA system incorporates mechanical countermeasures for the dispensing of chaff and decoys that are effective in either electromagnetic or infrared domains.
In addition to protecting the Rafale, SPECTRA also has a valuable offensive function. Fused data from the sensors provides threat tracks in the weapon system, which can be displayed in the cockpit. These tracks can be used for targeting in the defence suppression role.
Additionally, the data product from the SPECTRA sensors is of very high quality, so that the system can be used for the gathering of Elint (electronic intelligence).
Pop-up threats can be compared against the threat library, which can be updated with new information. The product of SPECTRA is also recorded and can be downloaded upon the aircraft’s return to base for more detailed analysis in the ground-based support centre. In this way master threat libraries can be updated, and revised data files produced for subsequent missions.