The Dassault Mirage 2000 is a French multirole, single-engine fourth-generation jet fighter manufactured by Dassault Aviation. It was designed in the late 1970s as a lightweight fighter to replace the Mirage III for the French Air Force (Armée de l'Air). The Mirage 2000 evolved into a multirole aircraft with several variants developed, with sales to a number of nations. The variants include the Mirage 2000N and 2000D strike variants, the improved Mirage 2000-5 and several export variants. Over 600 aircraft were built and it has been in service with nine nations.
The origins of the Mirage 2000 could be traced back to 1965, when France was involved with Britain "Anglo-French Variable Geometry" (AFVG) swing-wing aircraft. Two years later the country withdrew from the project on grounds of costs, after which Britain would collaborate with Western Germany and Italy to ultimately produce the Panavia Tornado, Dassault focused its energy on its own variable-geometry aircraft, the Mirage G experimental prototype. The design was expected to materialise in the Mirage G8, which would serve as the replacement for the popular Mirage III in French Air Force service.
The Mirage 2000 started out as a project of secondary project tentatively named "Delta 1000" in 1972. Dassault at the time was devoting considerable attention on a more ambitious design, the Mirage G8A, a fixed-geometry derivative of the Mirage G8 that served as the competitor to the Panavia Tornado. The Mirage G8, which was envisioned as the "Avion de Combat Futur" (ACF / Future Combat Aircraft) of the French Air Force (Armee de l'Air, AdA), did not align with the service's conception of its future aircraft. More specifically, the AdA wanted a Mach 3 fighter, not an interdictor aircraft incapable of dogfighting that was the Mirage G8. As such, Dassault redesigned the Mirage G8 into the two-engine Super Mirage G8A that would prove to be ambitious and expensive, being two and a half times the price of the Mirage F1, and over-engineered especially compared to the F-16 that had just won orders from a number of European countries. Consequently, during a meeting of the National Defence Council on 18 December 1975, the Super Mirage was cancelled.
The ACF was a strike aircraft first and an interceptor second, while the Delta 2000 was exactly the reverse, but the single-engine Delta 2000 was much more affordable. At the same meeting, what was now redesignated as the Mirage 2000 was offered to the AdA and three prototypes were ordered. The AdA in March 1976 would issue a set of official requirements whose parameters matched that of Dassault's performance estimates of the new fighter. The aircraft's primary role was interception with a secondary ground-attack capability; the AdA had an commitment for 200 aircraft. The first aircraft was to be delivered in 1982. This was a return to the first generation Mirages, but with several important innovations that tried to solve their shortcomings.
The production of the Mirage 2000 involves three construction sites, all located in Bordeaux, that specialise in different components. The wings are built at Martignas, and the fuselages are fabricated at Argenteuil, with final assembly taking place at Bordeaux-Merignac. However, the first prototype, Mirage 2000 No. 01, was hand built at St Cloud, before being moved to Dassault's Istres facility for assembly. At the hands of Jean Coureau, No. 01 made its first flight on 10 March 1978, a mere 27 months after the programme go-ahead. During the 65-minute flight, Coureau took the aircraft to Mach 1.02 without afterburner, before climbing to some more than 12,000 m and accelerated the aircraft to Mach 1.3. By the end of May, the aircraft had surpassed Mach 2 and an indicated airspeed of 650 knots. On the other end of the speed spectrum, the Mirage 2000 proved to be a capable low-speed aircraft, as demonstrated at the Farnborough Air Show in September 1978, during which Dassault pilot Guy Mitaux-Maurourd raised the aircraft's nose to 25° angle of attack as the aircraft slowed to 100 knots. Later tests showed that the aircraft could attain 30° AoA while carrying fuel tanks and weapons.
The second prototype, No. 02, made its 50-minute first flight in September 1978 at the controls of Maurourd. The aircraft was tasked with the testing of some of the avionics systems and the carriage of weapons. Due to a flame out while on a landing approach, the aircraft was lost in May 1984. No. 03 would make its first flight in April 1979; equipped with a complete weapons system, it was tasked with radar and weapons trials. After 400 hours of flight, they were sent to CEV (Centre d'Essais en Vol, Flight tests centre). Although three prototypes were ordered in December 1975, Dassault constructed an additional fourth single-seat demonstrator for its own purposes, which embodied lessons on the earlier aircraft, namely the reduction in fin height and an increased fin sweep, redesigned air inlets and FBW system. The only dual-seat Mirage 2000B of the test programme first flew on 11 October 1980.
The first production Mirage 2000C (C stands for Chasseur, "Fighter") flew on 20 November 1982. Deliveries to the AdA began in 1983. The first 37 Mirage 2000Cs delivered were fitted with the Thomson-CSF RDM (Radar Doppler Multifunction) and were powered by the SNECMA M53-5 turbofan engine. The 38th Mirage 2000C had an upgraded SNECMA M53-5 P2 turbofan engine. The Radar Doppler Impulse (RDI) built by Thales for the Mirage 2000C entered service in 1987. It has a much improved range of about 150 km, and is linked to Matra Super 530D missiles, which are much improved compared to the older Super 530F. Look-down/shoot-down capabilities are much improved as well, but this radar is not usually used for air-to-surface roles.
The Mirage 2000N is a dedicated nuclear strike variant which was intended to carry the Air-Sol Moyenne Portée (ASMP) nuclear stand-off missile. Flight tests of the first of two prototypes, Mirage 2000N 01 (the eighth Mirage 2000) began on 3 February 1983. During the 65-minute flight, the aircraft reached a speed of Mach 1.5. The variant entered operational service in 1988, initially operating from Luxeil Air Base with 4e Escadre de Chasse. Closely derived from the Mirage 2000N is a dedicated conventional attacked variant designated Mirage 2000D. Initial flight of the Mirage 2000D prototype, a modified Mirage 2000N prototype, was on 19 February 1991. The first flight of a production aircraft occurred 31 March 1993, and service introduction followed in April 1995. A total of 75 and 86 Mirage 2000Ns and Mirage 2000Ds were manufactured, respectively.
By the late 1980s, the Mirage 2000 was beginning to age compared with the latest models of F-16 fighters. In particular, attention was drawn to the aircraft's inability to engage multiple target simultaneously and the small load of air-to-air missiles it could carry. Consequently, Dassault in April 1989 announced that it (with the cooperation of Thomson-CSF) would be working on a privately funded update of the Mirage 2000C which was to be named the Mirage 2000-5. A two-seat Mirage 2000B prototype was extensively modified as the first Mirage 2000-5 prototype, and it first flew on 24 October 1990. A Mirage 2000C prototype was also reworked to a similar standard, making its initial flight on 27 April 1991. The first front-line aircraft variant to have been designed specifically in response to the export market, Taiwan was the first country to order the type in 1992, followed by Qatar in 1994. The type was first delivered in 1996 and entered service in 1997.
Domestically, Dassault needed an order from the AdA to help promote foreign sales and, in 1993, the AdA decided to upgrade 37 of their existing Mirage 2000s to the 2000-5 specification as a stopgap before the arrival of the Rafale in AdA service. The upgraded aircraft were redesignated Mirage 2000-5F, and became operational in 2000. They retained the old countermeasures system with the Serval/Sabre/Spirale units and did not receive the ICMS 2 system. A two-seat version was developed as well, whose rear seat has a HUD but not an associated head-level display and lacks a built-in cannon, although cannon pods can be carried.
At the urging of the United Arab Emirates, Dassault worked on a further modification of the Mirage 2000-5. Initially dubbed Mirage 2000-9, this variant saw the upgrade of the radar and the associated avionics, the change of weapons configuration, and the extension of range
The last Mirage 2000 was delivered on 23 November 2007 to the Hellenic Air Force; afterwards the production line was shut down.
The aircraft uses retractable tricycle type landing gear by Messier-Dowty, with twin nosewheels and a single wheel on each main gear. A runway tailhook or a fairing for a brake parachute can be fitted under the tail, which can operate in conjunction with the landing gear's carbon brakes to shorten landing distances. A removable refueling probe can be attached in front of the cockpit, offset slightly to the right of centre.
The Mirage 2000 is available as a single-seat or two-seat multi-role fighter. The pilot flies the aircraft by means of a centre stick and left hand throttles, with both incorporating hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) controls. The pilot sits on a SEM MB Mk10 zero-zero ejection seat (a license-built version of the British Martin-Baker Mark 10).
The instrument panel (in the Mirage 2000 C) is dominated by a Sextant VE-130 head-up display which presents data relating to flight control, navigation, target engagement and weapon firing, and a radar screen located centrally below it.
The SNECMA M53 afterburning turbofan was developed for the ACF, and was available for the Mirage 2000 project. It is a single-shaft engine of modular construction that is relatively light and simple compared to those of the British or American designs. The M53 consists of three low-pressure turbine stages, five high-pressure stages and two turbine stages. With the development programme consisting of 20 engines, the M53 sans suffix was first bench tested in February 1970 and became airborne on a Caravelle testbed in July 1973. Dassault conducted flight tests of the M53-2 version using its Mirage F1E testbeds starting in December 1974; this version produced 84 kilonewtons (19,000 lbf) in afterburner. The Mirage 2000 itself was powered by two versions of the M53 – the M53-5, which equipped initial operational aircraft, was rated at 88 kN (20,000 lbf) of thrust with afterburner. The definitive version of the engine, the M53-P2, which equipped the majority of the type, is rated at 65 kN (15,000 lbf) in dry thrust and 95 kN (21,000 lbf) in afterburner.
Payload and armaments
The Mirage 2000 is equipped with built-in twin DEFA 554 autocannon (now GIAT 30–550 F4) 30 mm revolver-type cannons with 125 rounds each. The cannons have selectable fire rates of 1,200 or 1,800 rounds per minute.
The first aircraft entered service in July 1984. The first operational squadron was formed during the same year, the 50th anniversary of the French Air Force. A total of 124 Mirage-2000Cs were obtained by the AdA.
French Mirage 2000s were used during the Gulf War where they flew high altitude air defence for USAF U2 spy aircraft, as well as in UN and NATO air operations during the Bosnian War and the Kosovo War. During Operation Deliberate Force, on 30 August 1995, one Mirage 2000D was shot down over Bosnia by a 9K38 Igla shoulder-launched missile fired by air defence units of the Army of Republika Srpska, prompting efforts to obtain improved defensive systems. Both pilots were captured.
French Air Force (Armée de l'Air) Mirage 2000Ds later served with the International Security Assistance Force during the conflict in Afghanistan in 2001–2002, operating in close conjunction with international forces and performing precision attacks with laser-guided bombs. In the summer of 2007, after the Dassault Rafale fighters had been removed from the theater of operations, 3 French Mirage 2000s were deployed to Afghanistan in support of NATO troops.
The Mirage 2000 is being replaced in French service by the Dassault Rafale, which became operational with the French Air Force in June 2006.
French Mirage 2000s were committed to enforcing the no-fly zone in Libya as part of Opération Harmattan in 2011.