The Dassault Mirage F1 is a French fighter and attack aircraft designed and manufactured by Dassault Aviation. It was developed as a successor to the popular Mirage III family.
During the 1960s, Dassault commenced development of what would become the Mirage F1 as a private venture, alongside the larger Mirage F2. Work on the F1 eventually took precedence over the more costly F2, which was cancelled during the late 1960s. The French Air Force (Armée de l'Air) took interest in the fledgling fighter to meet its requirement for an all-weather interceptor aircraft. Accordingly, initial production units were equipped with the Thomson-CSF Cyrano IV monopulse radar. During the latter half of 1974, the Mirage F1 entered service in the French Air Force. Shortly thereafter, the type was deployed as the main interceptor of the French Air Force, a capacity which it continued to serve in until the arrival of the Mirage 2000. It later transitioned to an aerial reconnaissance role. During June 2014, the last French Mirage F1s was retired from service.
During 1984, the first operational deployment to be performed by French Air Force Mirage F1s was conducted during Operation Manta, the French intervention in Chad to counteract the growing Libyan encroachment in the region. A force of four Mirage F1C-200s provided air cover for a further group of four Jaguar strike aircraft; they also participated in a number of skirmishes against pro-Libyan Transitional Government of National Unity (GUNT) rebels.
A pair of French Air Force Mirage F1Cs in flight, 31 May 1986
In 1986, French Mirage F1s were redeployed to Chad as part of Operation Epervier. A flight of four F1C-200s provided fighter cover for a strike package of eight Jaguars during the air raid against the Libyan airbase at Ouadi Doum, on 16 February. A pair of F1CRs also conducted pre and post-strike reconnaissance missions.
In response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, France performed two deployments of Mirage F1s to the Persian Gulf. In October 1991, 12 Mirage F1Cs were dispatched to Doha, Qatar in order to boost air defences, while a further four Mirage F1CRs of ER 33 were deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Daguet in September 1991. To avoid the risk of being mistaken for hostile Iraqi Mirage F1s, all of the French F1CRs were grounded during the first few days of the Allied air attacks, flying their first combat mission on 26 January 1991; an additional reason for their initial grounding was the lack of compatible night vision equipment. They were used in the fighter bomber role, using their more capable navigation systems to lead formations of French Jaguar fighter bombers, as well as to fly reconnaissance missions; in this capacity, 114 sorties had been flown by the end of hostilities.Following the end of the Gulf War, France deployed a number of Mirage F1CRs to bases in neighbouring Turkey as part of Operation Provide Comfort to protect Kurds from Iraqi aggression.
In November 2004, in response to an Ivorian air attack upon French peacekeepers, a force of three Mirage F.1 jets launched an attack upon Yamoussoukro Airport, destroying a total of two Su-25 aircraft and three attack helicopters.
In October 2007, three Mirage 2000s and three Mirage F1s were deployed at Kandahar Air Force Base, where they flew close air support and tactical reconnaissance missions in support of international forces in Southern Afghanistan.
The last French unit to be equipped with the Mirage F1 was the Escadron de Reconnaissance 2/33 Savoie, home-based at Mont-de-Marsan, which flew the latest version of the F1CR. The unit's primary mission was tactical reconnaissance, with a secondary mission of ground-attack; because of the unique missions of the 2/33, their unofficial motto among the pilots had become, "Find; Identify; and Photograph or Destroy." In accordance with a bilateral defense agreement between France and Chad, a pair of 2/33 F1CRs, along with 3 pilots, a photo interpreter, an intelligence officer and ground crews were always deployed to N'Djamena, Chad. The two 2/33 F1CRs operated with three Mirage 2000Ds, also based on rotation from France to Chad.
During March 2011, 2/33 Mirage F1CRs were deployed to Solenzara Air Base, Corsica and conducted reconnaissance missions over Libya (also a Mirage F1 operator) as part of Opération Harmattan. In 2013 2/33 F1CRs also participated in Operation Serval in Mali. On 10 January, launching from their base in N'Djamena in Chad, the first French air intervention mission against Islamist rebels in Mali, was undertaken by F1CRs and Mirage 2000Ds, supported by a French Air Force C-135K tanker. The 2/33 F1CRs provided valuable photo information for strike aircraft flying the next day from France. Later on 16 January, two 2/33 F1CRs, were deployed from Chad to Bamako, Mali. Both aircraft were fitted with extra long range 2,200 liter ventral tanks; and when operating over Mali also carried two 250 kg unguided bombs, plus their one internal 30mm cannon, in case they were called on for close air support missions.
In order to replace the elderly F1CRs of 2/33s, a number of Rafales were outfitted with an advanced reconnaissance pod. The Rafale's range, maneuverability and combat load is far superior to the F1CR that it replaces, as well as its reconnaissance capabilities: after the Rafale's pod has taken photographs, these can be almost instantly transmitted back to its base or where the imagery would be required if provisioned with compatible down link equipment. The French Air Force's last Mirage F1 fighters were retired from operational service on 13 June 2014. The last units in service, these being 11 single-seat Mirage F1CRs and three two-seat F1Bs were transferred to storage; six aircraft performed a final appearance in a flypast during Bastille Day celebrations over Paris prior to their disposal.