What if the two most formidable European fighter aircraft of the 1980s and ’90s crossed swords? One, the Tornado ADV, was the RAF’s prime interceptor, the other — the Mirage 2000 — a masterpiece of fighter design, was the pride of the French Air France. Ian Black, flew both, and is qualified to answer.
Biggest advantage of each type?
“The Tornado F3 was designed for a specific role, UK Air Defence or to be 100% accurate: policing the UK airspace. When the RAF wanted was a replacement for the Vulcan / Canberra /Phantom FGR2/ Jaguar — it also had specific needs for a two-seat twin-engined nuclear strike aircraft (that also had a Recce role). In order to achieve the lion’s share of development rights the UK hid the fact from the other two partner nations (Italy and Germany ) that 165 of their 385 total order would be for air defence variants. So to answer the question, the biggest advantage of the F3 was that it was tailor-made for the job – day or night all-weather long range interceptor. It had a crew of two, long range un-refuelled, plus eight missiles and a gun.”
“Putting the flaps down in combat was pretty much a last ditch deal and firing a Sidewinder off the wing would probably have burnt a hole through them! In short, the F3 was best below 5000 feet.”
The Mirage 2000 was essentially a fly-by-wire Mirage III — albeit a very good one! The big advantage of the M2000 is its built by Dassault who make superb aircraft all French ! apart from the Martin Baker seat – Limitations – size the M4000 would have been perfect – only 4 missiles – and a gun
Biggest disadvantage of each type
“F3? Lack of manoeuvrability perhaps, the fact it was a fighter converted from a bomber meant its high level performance was poor.
M2000? Not a lot, though as a single-seater it had a high workload at night or in poor weather.”
At what height and speed would each aircraft want the engagement to take place?
“The M2000 would try and go high 40,000 feet plus to maximise missile range but stay out of contrails, the F3 would be better around 28-30,000 feet”
“The Mirage 2000 was the master of the ‘Bat Turn’, the ability to make a very quick instantaneous turn and take a shot. The big drawback was the delta wing gave huge amounts of drag, so you would bleed energy very very quickly – you had to be sure if you pulled a quick 9G turn that it was going to achieve a kill.”
How would each aircraft fight?
“The F3 would prefer to take long range shots – ‘fire and forget’ with AMRAAM – not Sky Flash – and not get into a turning fight. The M2000 would do the same but be better placed if it got into a (close-in) fight.”
Sensors & countermeasures compared
“The F3 was very poorly placed when it entered service but after years of upgrades was second to none. The M2000 had a host of onboard jammers and infra-red decoys. In fact, the F3s Radar Warning Receiver or Radar Homing and Warning Receiver was superior to the GR4’s.”
“The F3 began life with four Skyflash and 2 AIM-9L sidewinders this became 4 – later on it was upgraded to take AMRAAM and ASRAAM = both superb weapons – The 27-mm gun was also excellent and very accurate.
The Mirage 2000 had Magic 2 which was actually slightly better than the Sidewinder but during my time Matra Super 530, which was a big missile and not as agile as Skyflash or as resistant to jamming .The internal cannon on the M2000 was also very effective”
“The Mirage 2000 had Magic 2 which was actually slightly better than the Sidewinder.”
“The Tornado F3 was good below 5000 feet — in fact surprisingly good. Limited to 6.9 G it could hold its own with a Hawk at low level mainly due to its RB199 104 engines. Clean in training fit it was a different aircraft to the war fit of 2250 litre tanks and eight missiles, it is often overlooked, but carrying eight missiles added a big weight penalty! The F3 would normally enter the fight wings back 67 deg or 58 deg then as the energy levels dropped off the wings would go forward to 45 with manoeuvre or 25 degrees – once you were experienced you could also use flap but it wasn’t really recommended. Putting the flaps down in combat was pretty much a last ditch deal and firing a Sidewinder off the wing would probably have burnt a hole through them! In short, the F3 was best below 5000 feet.
The Mirage 2000 needed to be flown with a bit of trick flying: you had to fly it as a delta not like any other aircraft you had flown. The Mirage 2000 was the master of the ‘Bat Turn’, the ability to make a very quick instantaneous turn and take a shot. The big drawback was the delta wing gave huge amounts of drag so you would bleed energy very very quickly – so you had to be sure if you pulled a quick 9G turn that it was going to achieve a kill. Getting energy back meant unloading and putting the nose down, even though the SNECMA M53 engine was very powerful.”
“SA in the later F3 was unequaled with its two crew and Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS).”
Tactical culture of likely operator
“France became immersed in NATO in the late 1970’/80s and adopted standard NATO tactics.”
Which aircraft would you choose to be in in this engagement?
“Being honest I’d probably go to war in an F3 due to its bigger weapon load, crew of two and greater situational awareness. However, for pure fun and in a close-in visual fight: M2000 no contest.”
What should I have asked you?
“Lots I guess, such as why would the RAF never have bought the M2000? Mainly because they need an aircraft that can sit at night over the sea in all weathers for long periods of time — and that is not the M2000.”