26 Feb 2019 was like any other commute to office till the Radio Jockey started talking about news coming in of an air strike in Pakistan. Slowly it dawned that the Indian Air Force had actually crossed the international border in anger after 47 years and delivered their ware on to a terror camp well inside the Pakistani territory. A fitting response to the dastardly and cowardly car bomb attack on Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir on 14 Feb 19. The aircraft used in the operations has been christened by the IAF as the “Vajra”. As per Hindu mythology, the”Vajra” is a divine weapon wielded by “Indra” the king of “Devas” or gods. It translates in Sanskrit as both, a thunderbolt which represents irressitible force or diamond, the hardest of materials known to man. In effect, it hits fast and hard; and hurts bad. The aircraft called “Vajra” by the IAF is none other than the French origin Mirage 2000.
The Mirage 2000 was developed by Dassault Aviation as a replacement for the Mirage III of the French Air Force in the late 1970s. It’s a single engine multi role fighter aircraft of the fourth generation. The Mirage has a Delta Wing (triangular fixed wing) configuration. The first aircraft flew on 10th March 1978. It was introduced into service with the French Air Force in July 1984. Dassault aviation has built a total of 601 Mirage 2000 aircraft which have seen service with Air Forces of India, UAE, Taiwan, Greece, Egypt, Brazil, Qatar and Peru. Except Brazil, all Air Forces have them in service still.
The Indian Air Force was the first foreign air force to procure the Mirage 2000. They placed order for them in 1982 with the first squadron, “The Battleaxes” receiving the planes in June 1985. The Indian Air Force has inducted a total of 50 Mirage 2000s with two squadrons. The Indian version were called the Mirage 2000H, where H stands for “Hindustan”. These planes were extensively used during the Kargil border war with Pakistan in 1999 when they were used to precisely bomb enemy targets and command posts. The same precision attack was again carried out 20 years later in 2019 against terror camps in Pakistan. Based on their performance in Kargil, the Indian Air Force was keen on a follow on order of another 126 aircraft. However, the process was converted into a global tender. Rafale, Dassault aviation’s next aircraft was selected in the process, but the contract was never signed. Later, a Government to Government contract was concluded for 36 Rafale aircraft.
The Mirage 2000 is primarily a single seater fighter, though a twin seater trainer version exists. It is 14.36 m (47′ 1″) long, 5.20 m (17 ft) high and has a wingspan of 9.13 m (29 ft). When loaded fully, the aircraft weighs 13,800 kgs (30,420 lbs). However, it has a maximum take off weight of 17,000 kg (37,500 lbs). The design of the aircraft allows it to be extremely manouevrable at high speeds as well as stable at speeds as low a 100 knots (180 km/h). Though the Mirage 2000 was powered by several engines from SNECMA, the most common engine powering it is the SNECMA M53-P2. This is an axial turbofan engine with an after burner. It has three low pressure compressor stages, followed by five high pressure compressor stages. Once the heated and compressed air is injected with burning fuel it is permitted to expand in two turbine stages followed by an after burner. This engine is capable of generating a thrust of 64.3 KN (14,500 lbs) which boosts up to 95.1 KN (21,400 lbs) once the after burner is engaged.
The M53-P2 can push the Mirage 2000 to a top speed of Mach 2.2 which translates to 2,336 km/h (1,451 mph) at high altitude and 1,110 km/h (690 mph) at lower altitudes. To reach the enemy quickly, it has a climb rate of 285 m/s (56,000 ft/ min). The Mirage 2000 can fly at altitudes up to 17,060 m (59,000 ft). With its drop tanks, the aircraft has a range of 3,335 km (2,073 miles). The Mirage was developed as a multirole interceptor and fighter aircraft. Its armed to the teeth to fight it out in air to air and air to ground combat. It has two 30 mm cannons for a classic dogfight. It also has nine hard points to carry various weapons like missiles and bombs or fuel tanks to increase its range. It can carry 6,300 kgs (13,900 lbs) of rockets, missiles – both air to air and air to surface, and guided as well unguided bombs. The Mirage 2000N /D were modified for the French Air Force to carry nuclear weapons also.
In 2011, India placed an order to upgrade the Mirage 2000, now called the Mirage 2000 I. They have been upgraded with better avionics and helmet displays which allow the pilots to aim their weapons by just looking at the targets. They have also been provided with Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air to air missiles.