Why India Could Buy French-Origin, Second-Hand Dassault Fighter Jets From Taiwan?

While there have been reports of Taiwan’s plan to decommission its French-origin, Dassault Aviation Mirage 2000 jets and India making emergency procurements in the backdrop growing tensions with China, is there a possibility that New Delhi could acquire battle-proven Mirage 2000 fighters and prepare itself for a possible two-front war? 

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It has been widely speculated including by Military Watch Magazine. that the Indian government could acquire Mirage 2000 jets from Taiwan besides hundred of MICA and other French missiles that came with the jets.

Taiwan’s Mirage 2000

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Taiwan’s cross-Strait relations with mainland China have been deteriorating with Beijing claiming sovereignty over the island and seeking to merge it with the mainland even by force, if necessary.

Tapei is increasingly arming its forces with modern weapons with the help of its western ally, especially the US, that vehemently supports Taiwan’s autonomy. 

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As reported earlier by EurAsian Times, Taiwan’s armed forces are mostly equipped with American hardware including fighter jets, however, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen tapped the state-owned Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation to design and build 66 new training jets, T-5 Brave Eagle, that can also be used as an attack fighter.

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Taiwan also possesses multirole combat fighter manufactured by Dassault Aviation, Mirage 2000, acquired two decades ago. However, since its purchase the Mirage fleet has suffered from low operational readiness, high maintenance costs and higher-than-expected wear and tear probably due to the island’s tropical climate. Hence, there have been calls to decommission the jets.

The old Taiwan Mirages have also suffered several crashes including one in 2017 which was the sixth crash according to reports.

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According to the report, military analysts said a lack of maintenance on the aircraft might be a major cause of the crashes, as more of the island’s shrinking defence budget was earmarked for US weapons.

“It is sacrificing the higher cost of upgrading and maintaining Mirage fighters because of its limited military budget,” said Zhou Chengming, a Beijing based military analyst quoted in the report. 

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The 20-year-old French origin fighters are becoming more difficult to maintain and suffer from shortages of spare parts. “Taiwan asked France to upgrade its Mirages in 2012, but France, under pressure from China, forced Taiwan to withdraw its request by demanding a sky-high price,” the Taipei Times wrote in 2018.

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Opportunity for India?

With the growing Chinese aggression on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), India has ramped up its acquisition of munitions and artillery to stand prepared if push comes to shove.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) possess an impressive variety of fighters including Sukhois, MiGs, Rafales HAL Tejas and other multi-role fighters, but it still falls short on the number of sanctioned squadron strength of 42. Currently, IAF operating with just 28 squadrons. The successor of French-made Mirage is already a part of IAF but the quantity ordered is only 36 fighters. 

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In comparison to Taiwan, India wouldn’t have to worry about maintaining Mirage 2000s as it has the financial ability and amiable military and diplomatic relations with France.

Tom Cooper, an author and aviation expert was surprised on hearing media reports of New Delhi looking to procure Su-30s and MiG-29s. “Your air force has got 200 to 250 Su-30s,” Cooper pointed out on Facebook. “Still, when you want to bomb a terrorist gang in the neighbouring country, you need almost 40-year-old Mirage 2000s, instead.” 

Cooper referred to the ‘surgical strikes’ that India launched in Balakot last year when Indian Mirage fighters crossed the border and dropped bombs claiming to have destroyed terror infrastructure in Balakot, a claim vehemently rejected by Pakistan.

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The operation was carried out in the wake of Pulwama attack in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed. The sources had then said the Mirage 2000 multi-role aircraft was chosen for the strike for its capability to hit targets with “pin-point” accuracy.

Even before the Balakot strike, Mirage 2000 proved its might in the icy heights of Kargil. “The Mirage 2000 proved to be a game-changer in the-Kargil War as its deployment by the IAF skewed the asymmetry of the military assets in our favour,” a senior IAF officer told PTI. 

“Use of Mirage-2000, carrying LGB (laser-guided bombs) took our operation out of the envelope of a Stinger, and the adversary had to change tactics and this proved to be a game-changer,” the officer said.

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The Mirage 2000 is a single-engine fighter which is capable of dropping bombs and missiles including laser-guided bombs. IAF is also looking to take the capabilities up a notch by integrating the existing three squadrons of Mirage 2000s with the Meteor missile.

“The Meteor on the Mirage is something which we are keenly looking into. When the upgrade deal was signed with Dassault Aviation for the Mirages, the Meteor was still in the developing phase. And hence this would be a fresh deal. We are looking into the cost-effectiveness and other issues,” a top IAF source said last year. 

“There is no class of missiles in Pakistan and China that can match the Meteor at this point of time. However, China is investing heavily on indigenous cruise missiles and long-range missiles. Any missile that China will make will eventually get into the hands of Pakistan,” another IAF source said.

If Taiwan and India decide to buy the Taiwanese Mirages, it will surely strengthen its already comprehensive fleet of fighters. Questions could be raised about buying ‘second hand’ fighters but this won’t be the first time New Delhi will consider a proposal like this.

In 2006, India wanted to buy second-hand fighter jets from France and Qatar. The then Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi said that India wanted to buy about 40 jets, including a dozen from Qatar and the rest from France, and that New Delhi was already in negotiations with French officials. The decision came after the US agreed to supply Pakistan with new F-16 fighters.

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Analysts have noted that acquiring the Taiwanese fleet of Mirage 2000s would provide the IAF with a low-cost means of enlarging its fleet to meet current expansion goals to counter Chinese aggression at the border.

Although India’s indigenous jets have been okayed for mass production, the slow production by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) opens up the opportunity for at least a stop-gap solution to the current threats against China and Pakistan.