End of the Line for the Nuclear Mirage

 - September 4, 2018, 4:33 AM
A pair of Mirage 2000Ns undertakes a final flypast at Istres on August 30. One of the aircraft wears a special scheme to commemorate the 2000N's 30 years of service. (photo: Armée de l'Air)

On August 30, the Armée de l’Air (AA, French air force) brought the 30-year military flying career of the Dassault Mirage 2000N (N = nucléaire) to a close. Three aircraft that had served with Escadron de Chasse 2/4 “La Fayette” flew out of BA (Base Aérienne) 125 Istres for the last time and into storage. EC 2/4 had formally retired the Mirage 2000N from the front line on June 21, and has since moved to BA113 Saint-Dizier to operate the Dassault Rafale B. Among its duties is the nuclear strike role for which the Mirage 2000N was originally developed.

Three Mirages are being retained in airworthy condition to serve with the DGA (Direction Générale de l’Armement) at Istres on trial duties, and with EPNER (Ecole du Personnel Navigant d’Essais et de Reception), the French test pilot school. The remaining aircraft have been flown to BA279 Châteaudun, where the AA’s depot will break them down for spare parts to support the air force’s Mirage 2000-5F and 2000D fleets.

The Mirage 2000N originated from a 1970s requirement to replace the elderly Mirage IIIE free-fall nuclear striker and Mirage IVP in the pre-strategic nuclear strike role, armed with the IVP’s 100- to 300-kiloton ASMP (Air-Sol Moyenne Portée) missile. The aircraft was a development of the 2000B fighter trainer, with an Antilope 5 nav/attack radar offering terrain avoidance capability. The prototype first flew on February 3, 1983, and the first squadron was declared operational on July 12, 1988.

Initial Mirage 2000N-K1 aircraft were only capable of flying the nuclear mission but were subsequently upgraded with the secondary conventional capability introduced by the 2000N-K2. The majority of the 75 production aircraft were allocated to the three squadrons of EC 4 (4e Escadre de Chasse, 4th fighter wing). Two units (EC 1/4 “Dauphiné” and EC 2/4) were based at BA116 Luxeuil, with a third (EC 3/4 “Limousin”) established at Istres. EC 3 briefly operated 2000Ns while awaiting delivery of its Mirage 2000D fighter-bombers.

While EC 4’s 2000N fleet was assigned to the Forces Aériennes Stratégiques (strategic air forces) from 1991, EC 3’s aircraft saw brief action as conventional free-fall bombers over Bosnia in the mid-1990s. As part of the AA’s move to eventually become an all-Rafale force, EC 1/4 was disbanded in June 2010, with EC 3/4 following in September 2011, to be replaced at Istres by EC 2/4. In 2015, three 2000Ns were deployed to Azraq in Jordan to take part in Operation Chammal, France’s contribution to the anti-Daesh coalition operations over Syria and Iraq.

Although the nuclear-capable Mirage 2000N is gone, the conventional attack Mirage 2000D is being retained alongside the Rafale. Fifty-five aircraft are undergoing a modernization program to maintain the 2000D’s relevance beyond 2030. Meanwhile, France’s airborne nuclear capability is now wholly entrusted to the Rafale B, armed with the ASMP-A (Amélioré, improved) missile that was introduced by the Mirage 2000N in 2009.