Procurement: Free Is A Great Price


March 16, 2012: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has decided not to upgrade their 60 Mirage 2000 fighters with improved software and fire control systems, and instead they will give all or most of them to Libya. During the Libyan rebellion last year, the UAE sent six Mirage 2000s to assist in the NATO air support operation.

The Libyan Air Force has always been a ramshackle affair, just the opposite of the efficient UAE Air Force. Libya sees the UAE as a useful model of how an Arab state can create an effective air force. The UAE has a large and very modern force of F-16 fighters, and the Mirage 2000s were seen as more of a distraction than an asset. The UAE faces imminent war with Iran, while Libya is much less threatened by its neighbors.

Production of the Mirage 2000 ceased five years ago, with 601 produced. 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 4,000 were manufactured). The Mirage 2000 served in several combat zones but aside from dropping some bombs, never saw much action.

Most of the Mirage 2000s are still in service and will be for another two decades. In the meantime, French firms do 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 (after the Cold War ended and lots of cheap MiG-29s and Su-27s came on the market), made it impossible for the Mirage 2000 to sell enough aircraft to pay for those subsidies. Its successor, the Rafale, is having an even harder time selling to export markets. But all that money and effort keeps France in that small circle of nations that can produce jet fighters.


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