For the Indian Air Force (IAF), the French-made Mirage-2000 fighters have remained indispensable assets — whether it was the Kargil war or the Balakot airstrikes — always delivering decisive performances in the battles.
The fast-paced bomber aircraft flew for the first time in 1978, and after its induction into the IAF, it was called ‘Vajra’.
Coming from the makers of Rafale jets — Dassault Aviation, the Mirage-2000 fighter is a single-engine fourth-generation aircraft, which with time evolved as a multirole fighter jet used to this day by a number of countries.
Mirage’s latest exploits involved an overnight bombing campaign on Pakistan’s Balakot in February 2019, in which 12 Mirage-2000 fighter jets from the IAF entered Pakistani airspace and dropped 1,000-kg laser-guided bombs on terror launch pads near the Line of Control, as New Delhi states.
#RememberingKargil #OpSafedSagar: Muntho Dalo is located at an altitude of 14,600 ft, the Mirage-2000 aircraft pounded the enemy positions carrying heavy losses to the enemy. @adgpi @SpokespersonMoD pic.twitter.com/RssnpTnW0U
— Indian Air Force (@IAF_MCC) June 18, 2019
According to the Indian government, the bombs hit their target with pinpoint accuracy, eliminating all the occupants inside the buildings.
The versatile Mirage-2000s were also used in the Kargil war between India and Pakistan in 1999 when the fighters dropped laser-guided bombs on the latter’s military installations dealing a major blow to their advances on Tiger Hill. The airstrike had changed the balance of the war in India’s favor.
Game Changes – Mirage-2000
Air Marshal R Nambiar (retd), who flew Mirage 2000 sorties during the Kargil conflict, told ANI in 2019 that the induction of the Mirage 2000 aircraft by India was a game-changer in the way air battle is fought in terms of accuracy, precision, and fire-power.
He said whether it was the Kargil War or the 2019 Balakot airstrikes, Mirage 2000 has also delivered a decisive victory to the country.
Nambiar, who retired after serving as the Air Officer Commanding-In-Chief of the Western Air Command, ensured India’s victory in the Kargil war by coming up with the ingenious idea of integrating Israeli laser-guided bombs with French-made Mirage 2000 fighter.
Multiple MiG-27 sorties had proved ineffective in hitting ground targets spread over varying heights in the mountains. It’s when the 1000 lb laser bomb-powered Mirage 2000 had swayed the battle in India’s favor.
Mirage-2000 vs Pakistan’s F-16
EurAsian Times spoke to a prominent IAF pilot who has flown the Mirage-2000s to air battles, who said, “My own belief is that the upgraded Mirage 2000s are even better than the F-16s.”
While the F-16s are equipped with more advanced weapons and have superior maneuvering capabilities, the upgraded Mirages can be formidable rivals to the US-made fighters.
On the overall comparisons, the former Mirage-2000 pilot says, “The aircraft doesn’t matter is this whole game. What matters is the missiles the aircraft carries. At the moment the F-16 has got a better missile, but the aircraft itself in every way is inferior to the Mirage.”
The F-16 can carry the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) today, while the earlier F-16s could carry up to six AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking short-range air-to-air missiles (AAM).
Some of the versions can also fire guided-AIM-7 Sparrow medium-range air-to-air missiles.
F-16s come with nine hardpoints, with two more under the wingtips and another under the fuselage, which is an advantage over the Indian Mirage-2000. The jet also comes with a far superior M61 Vulcan cannon and the internal Vulcan cannon has a high rate of firing.
F-16s have the capability to be equipped with a wide variety of air-to-ground missiles, rockets or bombs, electronic jammers. The fighter is perfect for medium-range missions with its combat radius of 550 km carrying 450 kg of bombs. Excellent maneuverability and agility give F-16s high chances of victory over the Mirages in a dogfight.
While the Mirage’s advantages lie in its speed which goes up to Mach 2.2 (2336 kmph) and can travel 1550 km with drop tanks. The fighter can fly as high as 59000 ft (17km). The upgrades over the years have improved the performance of the aircraft, which involved the addition of advanced armaments.
The upgraded Mirage 2000 can carry laser-guided bombs, air-to-air, and air-to-surface missiles and is equipped with Thomson-CSF RDY (Radar Doppler Multi-target) radar onboard.
On a question, whether F-16 was a better fighter compared to Mirage 2000, the IAF pilot cited above said, “Let’s talk about BVR (Beyond Visual Range) air battles. Close air-to-air combat doesn’t happen today and has not happened for the last 20 years in air combat, in the actual world. 99 percent of the kills in the last 30 years have been BVR kills, the dogfights are an extremely rare occurrence.”
So, he says the F-16 can’t exploit the weak points of the Indian Mirages since there will be no close dogfights, the chances of which happening are very rare. The Mirages can very well fire the long-range missiles and don’t have to engage from closer distances, he adds.
“We still keep devoting a lot of time and energy to close combat arena but that is because of traditional mindsets, and probably, conservative thinking of the way we look at aviation.”
Mirage 2000 has surprised the F-16s multiple times in the past, with even the Indian Air Force claiming it had shot down one of the Pakistani F-16 in the 2019 dogfight.
Greece, one of the nations using Mirage-2000 jets, released video footage last year of an aerial engagement which shows a Greek pilot flying a Mirage fighter jet and locking onto a Turkish F-16, which they said was violating their airspace.
The footage shows the Turkish pilot retreating after being confronted by a Mirage-2000 by erratically maneuvering. The Greek media reported the pilot of the Mirage had a lock on the Turkish F-16 when it was escaping from the scene.
In October 1996, a Hellenic Air Force’s (Greece) Mirage 2000 fighter jet fired an R.550 Magic II missile and shot down a Turkish F-16D that had infringed the Greek airspace.
While Greece said the Turkish jet had violated its airspace, Turkey said it had been on a training mission near its border. The Turkish pilot died, while the co-pilot ejected and was rescued by the Greek forces.
Overall, the experts agree that Mirage 2000 continues to be a potent fighter and is in no way obsolete. The fighter is still used for its capability to carry out bombing operations. With a capacity to carry a large number of weapons, it continues to be used against credible air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
The ability to hold at least two laser-guided bombs also means the Mirage-2000 can wreak havoc on critical ground targets. And since close dogfights rarely happen, the chances of the French-made aircraft being defeated in battle are very slim.