The Mirage 2000 got much deserved media attention throughout Tuesday as the aircraft that avenged the Pulwama suicide bomb attack. The number of Mirage 2000 fighters in Indian Air Force service is less than the number of Su-30MKI and MiG-29 fighters, but the fighter built by France’s Dassault Aviation has earned a reputation for high reliability and advanced capabilities.
About a year ago, Agence France Presse (AFP) did a special report on an older French-built fighter, which holds a similar reputation with the Pakistan Air Force—the Mirage III/V.
The AFP report was intended to mark the 50th anniversary of the Mirage III/V’s entry into Pakistani service. The AFP feature specifically covered the upgrade of the Mirage III/V called the retrofit of strike element, or the morbidly ‘romantic’ acronym, ROSE. Over the past five decades, Pakistan has purchased nearly 150 Mirage III/V fighters.
The Mirage III was the first European combat aircraft capable of flying at twice the speed of sound and made its maiden flight in 1956. The Mirage V was a dedicated ground attack variant of the Mirage III, with greater space for fuel, in place of avionics. The only thing these aircraft share in common with the Indian Mirage 2000 is their ‘delta wing’ design. The Mirage 2000 is a far newer and capable design that uses ‘fly-by-wire’ technology (flight control by computers) instead of hydraulic controls on the older jets.
While Pakistan also operates over 100 Chinese-built J-7 fighters, which are copies of the Soviet MiG-21, these have short range and limited payload. The American-built F-16, of which the Pakistan Air Force is thought to operate around 75 jets, is Pakistan’s most advanced fighter. But strict US export controls and monitoring has meant Islamabad has been unable to modify the F-16 for long-range attack missions.
This has left the Pakistan Air Force heavily reliant on the Mirage III/V for the stand-off strike role. And Pakistan has virtually trawled the world for used Mirage III/V jets, buying variants from the likes of Australia, Libya, Lebanon, Spain and, of course, France.
Since the mid-1990s, Pakistan has upgraded dozens of Mirage-III/Vs with Italian radars and other electronics at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex under the ROSE programme.
In addition to improved air-to-air capabilities, Pakistan has modified the Mirage ROSE aircraft with the capability to fire long-range glide bombs developed with South African assistance. The Mirage ROSE was also the launch aircraft on tests of the Ra’ad cruise missile, which has been fired at least seven times since 2007. The Ra’ad has been claimed to have a range of up to 350km and can carry conventional or nuclear warheads.
The AFP article from 2018 mentioned the Pakistan Air Force intended to replace the Mirage ROSE aircraft with the Chinese-designed JF-17 as the French aircraft are becoming difficult to maintain. However, Pakistan officials praised the Mirage ROSE aircraft as being “very agile” and capable of penetrating deep into enemy territory without being detected.
So, while tension rises between India and Pakistan, it is difficult to miss the irony in the fact that two French-designed aircraft play key roles in the two militaries.
P.S.: In the mid-1990s, Asif Ali Zardari, husband of then Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was accused of taking a bribe of $200 million from Dassault to facilitate a deal for 32 advanced Mirage 2000 fighters for the Pakistan Air Force. The deal was scuppered when Bhutto's government was dismissed in 1996.