More than three decades after Taiwan purchased the Mirage 2000 from French manufacturer Dassault, it is now looking for alternatives to replace the aging aircraft as China’s PLA Air Force (PLAAF) fields its most advanced and potent warplanes in the eastern theater.
The self-ruled island state had purchased 60 Mirage 2000 fighter jets from France in 1992 amid strong protests from Beijing.
The deal for these jets was signed after a long period of dilly-dallying by France, which was under pressure from China to block the sale. However, it finally gave in after the US decided to sell F-16 fighters to Taiwan the same year.
In September 1992, former US President Bush announced that he had approved the US$6 billion sale of up to 150 F-16 jet fighters to Taiwan. At the time, the deal came as a big surprise since it was seen as an overturning of a decade-long US policy towards China.
This was when China acquired 26 Su-27SK from Russia, significantly bolstering its air fleet with one of the world’s most advanced fighter jets, the Flankers. The sale of F-16 Fighting Falcons, and the subsequent sale of Mirage 2000s to China, was seen as a move by the West to counter China’s expanding military might.
The US move ended up angering China, which, in turn, accused then-President Bush of breaching a promise not to supply advanced weapons to Taipei. However, it did not stop there.
Just after the US announcement, unidentified sources cited by the Broadcasting Corp. of China stated that the manufacturer of Mirage 2000, Dassault Aviation, had agreed to reduce its original price of $54 million per jet by 20%, with a contract to follow suit soon after. The news spread, sparking concern among Chinese officials and igniting tensions with France.
Shortly after, a contract was inked to buy 60 Mirage 2000-5 jets, the upgraded variant of the aging Mirage 2000C. The entire cost of the agreement, of which $2.6 billion was for the aircraft, was US$4.9 billion.
The order also included 480 Magic short-range air-to-air missiles, 960 MICA intermediate-range air-to-air missiles, auxiliary fuel tanks, ground support equipment, and monitoring equipment.
Mirage 2000 In China’s Backyard
Initially, French officials declined to comment on the report as they did not intend to publicly reveal the agreement and offend Beijing.
However, once the cat was let out of the bag, China once again fumed at the decision made by France to supply lethal military weapons to Taiwan, in violation of the internationally-agreed ‘One China Policy’ and warned that Paris would have to adhere to the policy if it wanted to do “serious business” with Beijing.
With the purchase, Taiwan also became the first overseas customer of the Mirage 2000-5. It significantly improved over earlier models and had a thorough electronic, sensor, and cockpit overhaul to increase its combat capability while decreasing the pilot burden.
The French-origin aircraft started entering service with the Republic of China (RoC) Air Force in 1997, and the last batch was delivered sometime in 2001. And this was how the two most cutting-edge and combat-hardened fighter jets of the Western world ended up parked in China’s backyard.
This also meant that two countries that China was in active dispute with or had fought an armed conflict with now had a fleet of Mirage 2000s each. Before Taiwan, India had purchased the aircraft from Dassault in the 1980s.
Cut to the present, Taiwan has gone on a military shopping spree with China’s Western rivals. It is acquiring the most advanced version of F-16s, the F-16 Vipers, and advanced air-to-air missiles to create deterrence with PLA’s expanding fighter jet fleet.
In contrast, India now boasts another fleet of advanced 4.5th generation fighter jets, Rafale, also purchased from Dassault Aviation. Interestingly, the two squadrons of these fighters have been placed in locations where they could swiftly take off for the Line of Actual Control (LAC) if needed.
However, both India and Taiwan are now staring at a common problem: aging Mirage 2000 fighter jets that need replacement to enhance the overall combat readiness of their respective air forces.
Mirage 2000s, Coming Of Age
For Taiwan to keep using them, the Mirage 2000 will require a system upgrade, but Dassault no longer manufactures this aircraft model and is demanding an outrageous fee to complete the work, South China Morning Post reported.
On May 25, Taiwanese MPs grilled Taiwan’s Minister of Defense, Chiu Kuo-cheng, about whether the Mirage fleet would be upgraded or decommissioned as the PLA has been expanding its more sophisticated and potent fighter aircraft fleet on a war footing.
The Mirage fleet, which is located in Hsinchu in the north of the island, still functions admirably, but Chiu warned the legislative gathering that there would “over time” be a problem with the outdated fighter jets. “Of course, there is an age concern for the jets, and we will make certain plans about this,” he said.
When probed if the Mirage fleet would be retired or sold, Chiu said: “The air force is assessing whether to replace or upgrade them. All these would be options – the air force is still studying which one to choose.”
The Mirage 2000s were Taiwan’s most potent fighters and the backbone of its air force in the 1990s. Six aircraft were lost in crashes, leaving 54 remaining in service. Taiwan and France have a maintenance service agreement that expires in 2026. However, the French manufacturer claimed to have requested a hefty price for the refurbishment.
In contrast, India is likely to operate the Mirage 2000 for at least ten years, after which the aircraft and archaic Jaguars will be phased out of service. Both these combat-tested fighter jets are expected to be replaced by the LCA Tejas Mk2 aircraft, as reported by EurAsian Times last year.
The Mirage-2000 has received several upgrades since it was first introduced to the IAF in the 1980s, including updated radars, glass cockpits, and enhanced navigation systems.
Moreover, a $2.5 billion modernization program for India’s fleet of more than 50 Mirage-2000 aircraft was agreed to by Dassault Aviation and the IAF in 2011.
In 2021, the Indian Air Force (IAF) stunned military watchers as it inked a contract to acquire two dozen phased-out Mirage 2000 aircraft from France for spare parts and extensive maintenance for bolstering the existing IAF Mirage fleet.
It received the first two of these fighters in November 2021. The aircraft in service for more than three decades is still a useful war machine in India.