Dassault Aviation, in conjunction with the Clermont-Ferrand facility of l’Atelier Industriel de l’Aéronautique (AIA, the French air force’s maintenance organization), this week delivered the first Mirage 2000D to undergo a major mid-life update (MLU) program to the Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace (AAE, France’s air and space force). The fighter was ferried to AAE's Base Aérienne (BA, air base) 118 at Mont-de-Marsan on January 7.
Aircraft no. 639 will now be used for an extensive series of trials with the aim of clearing the Mirage 2000D MLU model for operations from early 2022. Tests will include a thorough evaluation of the aircraft’s new systems under various operational conditions, including hot-weather trials to prepare for overseas deployments. The campaign will be conducted by France's Centre d’Expertise Aérienne Militaire (CEAM, air warfare center) and the DGA-EV test center.
France embarked on the MLU project in order to maintain a combat fleet across both AAE and Marine Nationale forces of 225 aircraft, the bulk of which comprise Dassault Rafales. To make up the numbers, it was decided to retain 55 Mirage 2000Ds and to equip them for an operational life until at least 2030. The type first entered service in 1995 and 86 production aircraft were delivered. The MLU program was approved in late 2015, but funding was delayed until the 2019-25 military procurement law came into force. Dassault was contracted in 2016, and in 2017 a demonstrator aircraft was produced to test various aspects of the modernization. It was displayed at the Paris Air Show in 2017. Work on production conversions began in 2019.
The upgrade improves the Mirage 2000D’s air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities through the addition of weapons such as the MBDA Mica IR air-to-air missile and the Sagem AASM precision-guided bomb. The aircraft will also add the Thales BAT-120 GL lightweight laser-guided missile. The avionics are modernized with a new central navigation/attack system with improved interfaces, and the aircraft will have the Rafale’s Thales Talios targeting pod in place of the current Damocles. New datalinks will improve connectivity.
After modernization, the 55 Mirage 2000Ds will return to their current AAE units at BA133 Nancy-Ochey. There the 3eme Escadre de Chasse operates three front-line squadrons—Escadron de Chasse 1/3 “Navarre”, EC 2/3 “Champagne” and EC 3/3 “Ardennes”. The remaining unmodified Mirages are expected to be used as a source for spares.