Pride of Place

The versatile and reliable Mirage 2000s have become the IAF’s go-to platforms for critical operations

Prasun K. Sengupta

In the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) inventory of multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA), the most versatile and combat-proven platforms are the Dassault Aviation-built Mirage-2000s as they have the highest number of weapons-to-target-matching combinations (94 in all), they are the only ones in the world to have launched standoff precision-guided munitions (PGM) from heights of above 26,000 feet up to 32,000 feet during the 74-day highest-elevation conflict in the history of air warfare (as part of OP Safed Sagar in mid-1999), and they are also the IAF’s only MRCAs that have launched PGMs (in three military rounds so far) in anger against Pakistan.

IAF’s Mirage 2000

In all, the IAF has to date procured 52 single-seat Mirage-2000Hs and seven Mirage-2000TH tandem-seaters. It was in October 1982 that India through an inter-governmental procurement contract with the French defence ministry’s Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) ordered the first tranche of 36 Mirage-2000Hs and four Mirage-2000THs. The first seven of these arrived in India on 29 June 1985 to equip the No.7 ‘Battleaxes’ Squadron. The second Squadron to convert to the Mirage-2000s was No.1 ‘Tigers’ Squadron, in January 1986. The second tranche’s order was placed in 1986 for nine aircraft, of which five were delivered by 1990, two more in 1992 and the last two in 1994. In 2004, another 10 were ordered and these were delivered by 2007 to equip the No.9 ‘Wolfpack’ Squadron. The IAF lost its first Mirage-2000 on 22 April 1987 when Flt Lt Anil G. Ghatge flew into Tosham Hill near Sirsa, Haryana, at night and was killed. The second loss took place in early 1988, when Flt Lt R.T.S. Gill ejected from a Mirage-2000 that had suffered an engine surge due to ingestion of a fractured airflow guidance cone located just short of the face of the first-stage fan blades. The third loss was the live-on-TV crash of the aircraft carrying out a low-level aerobatics display in New Delhi on 8 October 1989 in which Wg Cdr Ramesh ‘Joe’ Bakshi was killed. The fourth loss was a crash soon after takeoff due to a bird-strike, subsequent ingestion and a flame-out, in late 1994. The pilot, Flt Lt K. Suresh, ejected safely. The next loss was that of a tandem-seater on 25 February 2012. Another tandem-seater crashed on 5 March 2012. Both these tandem-seaters reported engine failure. On February 1 this year a third tandem-seater crashed while taking off during a test flight from the Bengaluru-based facility of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and killed both pilots — after they had ejected.


OP Safed Sagar

During this operation from May 26 till 11 July 1999, the IAF’s two Mirage-2000 squadrons flew 514 sorties, with only three drop-outs. No.1 Sqn flew 234 air-defence and strike-escort missions, while No.7 Sqn conducted 240 strike missions during which it dropped 55,000kg of ordnance over targets located at Muntho Dhalo, Point 5096, Tharu, Padma Goh, Jubar, Point 4388, Points 5140 and 5060 (Tololing area), Tiger Hill and Mountain Unit 4260, Drass area (Mountain Unit 4462 and Points 4700, 4965 and 5405), Point 4355, Mountain Units 4162, 3663 and 3762, Nissan hut camp, and Point 4875. The Mirage-2000s used the US-supplied Paveway-II laser-guided bombs (LGB) only eight times, mainly for destroying enemy command bunkers. The first Mirage-2000 combat sorties were undertaken on June 6 and precision-bombing at night had commenced by June 24. The real heroes of the OP Safed Sagar was the team headed by the then Director of Air Operations (Offensive), Air Commodore Subhash Bhojwani, who, after being unceremoniously replaced as the IAF spokesman within 72 hours of the commencement of air operations, had by May 29 discovered, even though belatedly, that a single RAFAEL Advanced Defence Systems-built Litening-2 laser designator pod (LDP) was lying idle at the facilities of the IAF’s Bengaluru-based Aircraft & Systems testing Establishment (ASTE) after it had arrived a few months earlier for systems integration with the Mirage-2000 and Jaguar IS. India’s Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) had approved a proposal in May 1996 for the procurement of 15 Litening-2 LDPs for fitment on 10 Jaguar IS and five Mirage-2000 platforms, plus modification of 30 more Jaguar IS aircraft for carrying these pods at a total cost of Rs 125 crore. The USD27.11 million (Rs 95 crore) contract for the 15 LDPs was inked in November 1996, with deliveries taking place between March 1998 and February 1999 in two phases and systems integration work being slated for completion by January 1999.

With the permission of his immediate superior, Air Vice Marshal S.K. Malik, the then Additional Assistant Chief-of-Air Staff (Operations), Air Commodore Bhojwani on May 30, through the Indian Defence Adviser at the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, sent a most-urgent SOS to Israel’s ministry of defence and through it to RAFAEL immediately re-assemble the Israeli team of systems integrators (who had flown back to Israel by 19 May 1999 for taking part in the annual Shavout festivities) back in Bengaluru so that the lone Litening-2 LDP could be integrated with a Mirage 2000TH on a war-footing. This was achieved by June 20 and new weapons delivery techniques for the Paveway-2 LGB using the Mirage-2000s centreline weapons station were quickly developed and validated by Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment (TACDE) and the TACDE at a hastily improvised instrumented weapons delivery range off Nainital. By June 12, the modified Mirage-2000s were ready to commence precision strike operations by day and night, but ego hassles and bureaucratic pushback occasioned a needless — and costly — delay in the first use of LGBs until June 24. It was the result of all this that on the night of 24 June 1999 the Pakistani intruders on Tiger Hill top were hit with two 1,000lb Paveway-II LGBs launched by a two-ship element of Mirage 2000Hs from No.7 Sqn that were equipped with Litening-2 LDPs (that can operate from altitudes of up to 40,000 feet).

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