The Mirage 2000 fighter jet, which captured the public’s imagination with its performance in the Kargil War in 1999 and the strike on Balakot 20 years later, completed 34 years of service in the Indian Air Force on Saturday.
The Indian Air Force put out a cursory tweet on the occasion, noting the Mirage 2000’s entry into service with the No 7 Squadron, the Battle Axes, on June 29, 1985. The fighter’s significance can’t be understated, both in terms of technology and in terms of its contribution to the IAF. The Indira Gandhi government signed a deal for 40 Mirage 2000 jets with Dassault in 1982.
The Mirage 2000, supplied by France’s Dassault, was the first fighter in the Indian Air Force to feature ‘fly-by-wire’ technology, which means the aircraft is controlled by computer and not the manual hydraulic systems found on earlier aircraft. Fly-by-wire controls help a pilot exploit the aircraft’s full manoeuvrability, while also lessening its weight by eliminating bulky hydraulics. The Mirage 2000 was the Indian Air Force’s first true multi-role aircraft, which could undertake both air defence missions and strikes against ground targets effectively.
The Mirage 2000 was also the first Indian Air Force fighter, and one of the first in the world, to use carbon composites in its airframe, instead of conventional metallic components. This ensures weight reduction, while also having lesser wear and tear. In the period of its service with the Indian Air Force, the Mirage 2000 fleet has maintained very high serviceability rates compared with Russian-origin aircraft like the MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-30MKI.
Not surprisingly, the Mirage 2000 has been the ‘go-to’ fighter in major operations for the Indian Air Force in the past four decades. During a press conference earlier this week, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa described the Mirage 2000 as the “sword arm of the IAF”.
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Less than two years after its induction in 1985, the Indian Air Force’s Mirage 2000 jets flew their first operational mission. Mirage 2000 jets, equipped with fuel tanks and air-to-air missiles, escorted An-32 transport aircraft to airdrop relief supplies to Jaffna, which was blockaded by the Sri Lankan Army during the civil war in the island nation in June 1987 in Operation Poomalai (garland). The operation was ordered by the government of then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
The Mirage 2000 saw operational service in Rajiv’s tenure a year later in November 1988, when the fighters flew over the Maldives as part of Operation Cactus to restore the government of president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom following a coup attempt by mercenaries.
The Mirage 2000 was the sole Indian Air Force fighter to use ‘smart bombs’ in the Kargil War in 1999, when it deployed bombs fitted with the US-made Paveway laser-guidance kits. The Kargil War and the strike on Balakot highlighted both the ingenuity of the Indian Air Force and the versatility of the Mirage 2000 with respect to integration of new weapons and sensors.
While the Mirage 2000 has seen considerable success in its service with the Indian Air Force, the aircraft has unfortunately been jinxed on one issue—getting more orders. Initial negotiations between Dassault and the Indira Gandhi government involved proposals to build up to 110 Mirage 2000 fighters in India for an eventual fleet of 150 jets. In 1999, the Indian Air Force requested the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to consider the purchase of 126 Mirage 2000 jets. Both plans went nowhere.
In 2011, the IAF signed a $2.1 billion contract to upgrade its fleet of Mirage 2000s with new sensors and weapons.