No F-16 Vipers, Taiwan ‘Bets Big’ On Mirage-2000 Fighter Jets To Combat China

The Taiwanese air force is exploring extending the service life of its French Mirage-2000 combat jet fleet to ward off an aggressive China, even as the delivery of F-16 Viper aircraft from Lockheed Martin is reportedly delayed.

Taiwan’s Air Force Command Headquarters announced this in a statement earlier this week. The service said that the country’s nine Mirage-2000 twin-seater fighters might be able to serve longer with the assistance of French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation, Focus Taiwan reported.

Beginning in 1997, Taiwan purchased a fleet of 60 Mirage fighters. As the fleet enters its last stages of life, the cost of maintaining and repairing the aircraft is higher than that of other aircraft in the fleet.

The Taiwanese air force said it had allocated NT$150 million (US$4.77 million) to commission Dassault Aviation to determine whether or not nine of its twin-seater Mirage aircraft could continue to serve Taiwan for another 20 years. The evaluation is expected to be finished by July 2026.

A military source was quoted as saying that Taiwan wants to extend the service life of some of the two-seaters. They give the air force strategic flexibility because they can be employed for both normal mission deployments and training sessions for recruits.

The source added that Taiwan has also ordered 66 brand-new F-16V fighter jets from the US, but there are still concerns about whether they will arrive on time. To better compete with the Chinese air force, particularly the J-20 stealth fighter, Taiwan has acquired 66 new F-16V aircraft and converted 141 F-16A/B aircraft to the F-16V type.

File Image: Taiwanese President in a new F-16V

Once the deliveries are completed, Taiwan will have a fleet of 200 F-16V fighter jets, the largest in Asia. However, the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced earlier this year that the country was experiencing delays due to supply chain disruptions.

Interestingly, the ministry is working to minimize the damage and “make up for the deficiencies.” Although it did not specify its plans about how it intended to make up the deficiencies, it could now be looking at returning to its old, reliable, and combat-capable French Mirage-2000 fighter jets.

ROCAF Dassault Mirage 2000-5Ei- Wikimedia Commons

The capabilities of Taiwan’s fighter fleet are being tested as fears of potential Chinese aggression against Taiwan and an increase in Chinese military aircraft activity over the island continue to escalate.

The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) claims that as part of the review, which will determine if the Mirage jets can continue to operate for another 20 years, it is cooperating with the original equipment manufacturer. Based on maintenance and repair costs, CNA says the Mirages are the most expensive fighters in the ROCAF arsenal.

With this in mind, it is evident that very genuine worries regarding availability across its fighter fleets are driving the decision to examine a Mirage service-life extension. A modernization program for the jets has been considered in the past, but it was reportedly rejected due to high costs.

There were rumors that the F-16C/D Block 70 may completely replace the Mirage 2000-5. For the remaining F-16A/Bs and F-CK-1s, modernization programs were started in the meantime. The updated F-16V version of the early-model F-16s has recently returned to service.

The People’s Republic of China Air Force has significantly increased its activity around the Taiwan Strait, regularly entering Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and frequently crossing the median line. With Chinese rhetoric about a potential invasion gathering steam, the ROCAF is looking at bolstering its air power against a cutting-edge Chinese fighter fleet.

This is where the Mirage-2000 of the ROCAF comes into the picture. The ROCAF’s Mirages are renowned for their performance, particularly their swift rate of climb. This is thought to have influenced the decision to deploy them in Hsinchu, near the Chinese mainland, where they can quickly intercept encroaching aircraft.

Mirage 2000 In Taiwan Are Serving Well

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.

The French-origin aircraft started entering service with the ROCAF 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.

While China, on its part, opposed the acquisition of the aircraft by Taiwan with all its might, it was unsuccessful. Since India also possesses a fleet of Mirage-2000s in its inventory, each of the two nations with whom China was now at odds or had engaged in hostilities now possessed a fleet of Mirage-2000 aircraft. India purchased the aircraft from Dassault in the 1980s.

Taiwan has been acquiring military hardware from China’s Western adversaries. With the PLA’s growing fleet of fighter jets, it is obtaining the most modern F-16s, the F-16 Vipers, and cutting-edge air-to-air missiles.

ROCAF Mirage-2000 flying with four MICA RF and two R.550 Magic – Twitter

Despite China’s assertions that the aircraft is no match for its air power, the French Mirage-2000 fighter jet enjoys a solid international reputation for its capability and fighting power. Besides Taiwan, the United States, France, Egypt, Peru, Pakistan, India, Greece, and Brazil also use the Mirage-2000 aircraft.

In the 2019 Balakot air strike, the aircraft made headlines when India dispatched several Mirage-2000 fighter jets into Pakistani airspace to unleash 1,000-kg laser-guided bombs on Jaish-e-Mohammed terror launch facilities on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.

With the rising Chinese threat and the need to immediately bolster its fighter fleet, assessing whether the Mirage-2000s deserve a new lease of life to act as a stop-gap measure until the F-16 Vipers arrive may only make sense.