In mid-2016 France announced that the manufacturer, Dassault Aviation, would handle the planned refurbishment and upgrade of the Air Forces’ Mirage 2000D strike fighters. This work consists of a MLU (mid-life update). This will most likely the last MLU for the 2000D, a move under consideration since 2008. This MLU has long been delayed because of the shrinking post-Cold War defense budgets. Only 55 of the 61 French 2000Ds will receive the MLU, which will keep the upgraded 2000Ds in service until at least the 2030s. The 2000D entered service in the 1990s as a long-range strike aircraft similar to the American F-15E.
The 2000D MLU cover two areas. First worn or unreliable components are replaced, often with improved items. These replacements include electronic and mechanical items. The specific upgrades for the 2000Ds include radar and avionics upgrades, in addition to integration with targeting pods, 30mm gun pods, recon pods, and new MICA short range air to air missile. The 2000D currently only can use the R550 Magic 2 for air-to-air combat and that missiles is about to be withdrawn from French service. The 2000D MLU provides a significant upgrade to the strike fighter’s air-to-air capability, as in addition to better guidance systems the new missile has a range of 50 kilometers. The older the R550 has a range of just 15 kilometers.
Other upgrades under consideration are integration with future versions of missiles the post-MLU can handle. In addition another upgrade is needed to make the 2000D capable of using the MICA NG, and modern AASM precision guided munitions. AASM is a French weapon similar to the American Enhanced Paveway II, which is already being used by these aircraft, but equipped with a small solid fuel rocket motor that extends the bomb’s range to as much as 55 kilometers when dropped from high altitude. An infra-red guided variant, which was considered but never developed for the Paveway, is also available for the AASM, in addition to the inertial, GPS and laser guidance which both of the bombs can use. The AASM, much like American Paveway and JDAM bombs, is built by mounting the necessary guidance and control modules onto an ordinary iron bomb, and can be applied to with 125 kilogram (276 pound), 250 kilogram (550 pound), 500 kilogram (1,100 pound) or 1000 kilogram (2,200 pound) bombs.
It is not surprising that France has decided to move ahead with the 2000D MLU. Because of recent activity in Libya and Mali, in addition to the recent intensification of French efforts against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in Syria the French Air Force needs more strike aircraft to share the burden and prevent wearing out the newer, more capable and far more expensive Rafale multirole fighters. Combat operations, particularly carrying heavy bombs, take a toll on fighter airframes, so it makes a lot of sense for France to make more use of the old 2000Ds for bombing guerillas that pose little danger to modern combat aircraft, rather than wear out the new and expensive Rafales that are expected to serve for many decades to come. Currently, less than 30 percent of French Mirage 2000D fleet is considered to be OPEX (overseas expedition) capable. The OPEX standard requires up-to-date sensors, encrypted radios, datalinks and ability to carry modern weapons such as GPS and laser guided smart bombs. The MLU will make all upgraded 2000Ds OPEX ready.