Leadership: Another Epic Failure

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October 10, 2021: India is spending $32 million to buy 24 used Mirage 2000 fighters from the French developer and manufacturer Dassault. These aircraft are needed mainly for the parts so India can complete the upgrades on 49 of its current forces of 59 Mirage 2000 fighters. Dassault often takes used Mirage 2000s back as part of a deal to sell more modern fighters. Dassault often uses these Mirage 2000s for parts. Only 13 of these used aircraft were complete and only eight of those were flyable. The other eleven are missing some components but there are enough of the parts that India needs to make the purchase worthwhile. The Indian Mirage 2000s average 35 years old and equip two fighter squadrons of about 24 aircraft each. The Indian Air Force has to keep these two squadrons operational for as long as possible because the Indian military procurement bureaucracy is, as usual, delaying procurement of new aircraft far longer than any other major military power.

India has had many problems carrying out this final upgrade of their Mirage 2000s and a large part of the problem has been the Indian procurement bureaucracy. A classic example of how this bureaucracy works occurred in 2006 when India decided to do the final upgrade on 49 of its Mirage 2000 fighters. This was to cost $35 million per aircraft but work did not get started until 2015. That was just the beginning because upgrades took longer and cost more than anticipated, which was not unusual, especially with India. By 2019 cost had grown to $45 million per aircraft. Part of the delay was due to Indian insistence that most of the work be done in India. That meant Indian technicians had to be trained, often in France. Special tools and equipment had to be obtained from France. The Indian military procurement bureaucracy is infamous for its sloth and inefficiency no matter what task it is assigned. That meant that every aspect of the Mirage 2000 upgrade effort was subject to delays and cost increases. In some instances the problem is an epic “failure to communicate” issue.

A prime example of that occurred when the Mirage 2000 maintenance contracts with the French manufacturer (Dassault) expired in November 2017, the Indian Air Force, which normally pays this fee ($15 million a year for all 47 Indian Mirage 2000 jets). But in 2017 the air force insisted it was the responsibility of the Indian firm HAL, which was doing the upgrades, to pay the upgrade fee. State-owned HAL disputed this and pointed out such a payment was not mentioned in the 2011 contract with HAL, which was to receive $900 million for work done in India on the Mirage 2000 upgrades. Another 2011 contract, worth $2.1 billion, went to Dassault and other French firms to supply new components and technical services and that one did not mention shifting the annual maintenance contract to HAL until the upgrades were done, or whatever. As always it was unclear exactly what was going on here. All concerned parties agreed to keep talking with each other to fix the problem. The stalemate continued as the government pressured the procurement bureaucrats to clear this up as soon as possible. The fee dispute was settled but then another problem was discovered; there were not enough spare parts available to keep the two Mirage 2000 squadrons going. That led to the purchase of the 24 used aircraft.

This maintenance contract dispute and failure to obtain a sufficient stockpile of spare parts to keep the refurbed Mirage 2000s operational over now extended lifetimes was not unique. The used Mirages became necessary because Indian procurement officials were unable to approve orders on time for spare parts for the Mirage 2000s, as well as for other items needed for the upgrades. Because of the delays in getting needed spares, at least a dozen of the Mirage 2000s were grounded, some of them since 2010. It is also difficult to get politicians to agree on things like upgrades to older equipment, but the larger problem is the inefficient and often ineffective procurement officials.

By 2018 seven Mirage 2000s had completed the upgrade work that had been transferred to India in 2015, where HAL, rather than France, attempts to upgrade ten Mirage 2000s a year. Ominously, a newly refurbished Mirage 2000 crashed on takeoff in early 2019. The two test pilots died checking out a recently upgraded aircraft. The cause of the crash is still under investigation. Despite that, 25 days after the crash India used ten of the upgraded Mirage 2000s for an airstrike on an Islamic terrorist base in Pakistani Kashmir.

The upgraded Mirage 2000s are getting new radar with 90 kilometers range (a 20 percent increase). The new fire control systems, modern electronic warfare systems and digital communications will make the Mirage 2000s capable of handling the most modern Pakistani and Chinese fighters. Other components, like the airframe and engines, were also to be refurbished. After the upgrade, the twenty-year-old Mirage 2000s would be good for another twenty years of service. The upgrade price includes a supply of MICA, long range (50 kilometers) radar guided missiles which are similar to the U.S. AMRAAM.

While expensive, the upgrade would turn the Mirage 2000 fighters into long-range air-to-air killers and extend their useful life another 15-20 years. These aircraft could very efficiently knock down their Chinese or Pakistani opponents (which are equipped with less capable Chinese FD-60 long-range missiles.) Meanwhile, Pakistan had received new F-16 fighters as well as upgrades for their older ones. Pakistan was receiving American AMRAAM missiles as well. The Indians expected the French to provide electronic warfare equipment that could give AMRAAM a hard time. How well that works won't be seen until, and if, there's another large-scale war between India and Pakistan. China uses copies of the latest Russian Su-30 fighters and the upgraded Mirage 2000s, as well as Indian Su-30s, are supposed to be competitive with those.

The Indian Mirage 2000s, thanks to this life-extension program, will probably be the last user to have some of these aircraft in active service. No new ones have been built since late 2007 when the last of 601 French Mirage 2000 fighters was completed and the production line was shut down. A 1970s design, the first Mirage 2000 flew in 1978, and it entered service in 1984. The French Air Force bought 315, while the rest were exported to eight countries. The Mirage 2000 was a lightweight (17 ton) fighter with similar capabilities to the U.S. F-16, of which over 5,000 were manufactured. The Mirage 2000 served in several combat zones, but aside from dropping some bombs, never saw much action.

At the time production ceased most of the Mirage 2000s built were still in service, and some were expected to be operational into the late 2020s. Since 2007 French firms did a brisk business upgrading older Mirage 2000s with excellent French radars and other electronics systems. The Mirage 2000 project cost the French government billions of dollars in subsidies. The competition from U.S. and Russian aircraft, especially after the Cold War ended in 1991 and lots of cheap MiG-29s and Su-27s came on the market, made it impossible for the Mirage 2000 to sell any better than it did. It's successor, the Rafale, had an even harder time selling to export markets but eventually did find customers, including India. All that money and effort kept France in that small circle of nations that can produce jet fighters.

 


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