Mirage 2000 ‘natural choice’ for air strikes at Jaish camp across LoC
The Mirage 2000s, the officials said, struck their target with Israeli-origin SPICE 2000 bombs from a stand-off distance, which wasn’t immediately known.Updated: Feb 26, 2019 22:56 IST
The French-origin Mirage 2000s that carried out the predawn air strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist camp across LoC on Tuesday are among the most reliable fighter jets in the Indian Air Force’s combat fleet and were a natural choice for the unprecedented peacetime, cross-border mission, officials and experts said on Tuesday.
Inducted into the air force in 1984, the single-engine fighters performed splendidly during the 1999 Kargil war and recorded an impressive serviceability rate. The Mirage 2000 is an extremely versatile aircraft that can carry out precision strikes during day and night, two IAF officials said on condition of anonymity.
The Mirage 2000s, the officials said, struck their target with Israeli-origin SPICE 2000 bombs from a stand-off distance, which wasn’t immediately known. Popeye missiles were on standby. The 2,000-pound GPS-guided SPICE (Smart, Precise Impact, Cost-Effective) bombs can hit targets up to 60km away with an accuracy of three metres, while the Popeye’s range is around 80km.
The fighters, manufactured by French planemaker Dassault Aviation, can carry a mix of bombs and missiles on its nine hard points.
“The Mirage 2000 is a highly serviceable aircraft and had a mission accomplishment rate of 98% during the Kargil war. It is equipped with good precision weapons. The fighter would have been a natural choice for such a mission,” said Air Marshal PS Ahluwalia (retd), who commanded the Gwalior air base (home to Mirage fighters) during the Kargil war, in which more than 30 Mirage 2000 jets were involved.
The IAF ordered a total of 59 Mirage 2000 jets from France, but it is currently left with 48; 11 have crashed over the years.
In 2011, India signed a $2.4-billion contract with Dassault Aviation and Thales Group, another French entity, to upgrade 51 Mirage 2000 fighters with new weapons, radars and avionics. The first two aircraft were upgraded by the firms in France followed by another two at state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, which is upgrading the remaining planes. The Mirage 2000 upgrade is five years behind schedule.
“The planes may be 35 years old but they have 20 years to go after the upgrade is completed,” said Ahluwalia, who flew one of the IAF’s first Mirage 2000s from France to India in the mid-1980s.
The Mirage 2000s took part in a major fire power demonstration by the IAF involving nearly 140 aircraft including 81 fighter jets at the Pokhran field firing range on February 16, two days after the Pulwama suicide car bomb attack in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers were killed. The jets attacked simulated targets with 250kg bombs during Vayu Shakti 2019 where IAF chief Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa declared that the air force was prepared to deliver an appropriate response assigned by the country’s political leadership. That response was delivered on Tuesday.
Former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Major (retd.) said the Mirage 2000s were tried and tested during Kargil, and would have been the first choice for the cross-border air strikes. “It’s an excellent weapons delivery platform,” Major said. The IAF also feels that the Mirage 2000 is a dependable and versatile fighter jet.
In August 2000, the air force moved a proposal to buy 126 Mirage 2000 II fighters (an upgraded version) that could be inducted 2004 onwards. But the proposal was scrapped by the defence ministry as it was a single vendor situation. The IAF was directed to opt for a competitive tendering process to buy new fighters, and the chain of events triggered by the decision resulted in the 2016 government-to-government Rafale jets deal between India and France that has become a subject of controversy in recent months.