Flying & fighting in the Mirage 2000: Interview with Mirage 2000 pilot

 

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Few aircraft inspire confidence and love in their pilots like the Mirage 2000. We spoke to Group Captain MJA Vinod (formerly of the Indian Air Force) about the Mirage 2000 and found out it is a lot more potent than many observers believe and how it may even have some advantages over the much vaunted Su-30 Flanker

 

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Which three words best describe it?

“Agile, Aggressive and Awesome.”

What is the best thing about it?

“Ease of handling the machine, I don’t remember if there has ever been a single landing accident in a Mirage 2000, that is because of carefree handling qualities of Mirage 2000 and of course the quality of training in the unit.”

..and the worst thing?

“I am of a firm believer that there should be two engines in a fighter aeroplane, twin engine fighters have a huge advantage. I believe Dassault Aviation came up a twin-engine version of Mirage 2000 called the Mirage 4000. It wasn’t pursued because the Rafale programme by then had gathered steam and as a policy I guess Dassault Aviation shelved the project. Yes! I do wish there was one more engine. Snecma (now Safran) engines are very reliable that way. I do not recollect any incident where the engine just quit out of the blue.

How you rate the 2000 in the following categories?

Instantaneous turn “Best in the Class, I don’t think there is any fighter comes any close, this needs to be measured with roll and rate of onset of the turn (called tau). In a common language, it means when I spot a bogey how fast can I bank to the required degree, initiate a turn and point towards him. In this regard Mirage 2000 is the best.”

Sustained turn “This is a question of aerodynamics; any delta planform generates higher drag than non- delta planform. Therefore, sustained rate is a function of drag and thrust. Practically, sustained rate is rarely needed, worst case scenario is a bogey on your six in close combat; the Mirage 2000 has enough power, rate of roll and ‘tau’ to shake him off. Mirage 2000 has another unique system that mitigates this Drag and produces adequate lift to sustain the turn and that is slats, with slats at low speeds, in a close combat engagement you can’t get away from a Mirage 2000.”

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High alpha – Nothing can beat a Delta platform in this regard, be it MiG 21 or Mirage 2000.

I’m a bit confused by this, is a MiG-29 or Su-30 with a tailed delta not superior?

“High Alpha needs to be understood in its context, High angle of attack does not mean high lift, it is means requisite lift is produced at higher angle of attack, Su-30 MiG-29 are not tailed delta, MiG-21 is a tailed delta. Originally the MiG-21 was not designed as a delta planform, but designers filled the extra space and found that long root to mid chord gave advantage in producing lift and could carry additional fuel and house part of undercarriage etc. So in this case, the delta planform was born more by accident. French adopted it without tail and made Mirage series of fighters. Tailless deltas (without fly-by -wire) like the Mirage III and Mirage V that Pakistan has, suffers from extra drag in the low-speed regime, which an inherently unstable platform like the Mirage 2000 does not suffer from, it is aerodynamics. For a layman, if he watches a Mirage V at low speed and Mirage 2000 at low speed he will see the elevons (the movable part of the trailing edge of a delta wing) in a Mirage 5 is not neutral (not raised or lowered) while in a Mirage 2000 elevons are very close to neutral.”

Acceleration – “You’ve got to pay attention to control the speed in M2K, she is very quick to accelerate.”

Climb rate “At close to 300 metres per second she climbs to the altitude of business in no time.”

What was your most memorable mission?

“It is not just one moment of ‘awe’. Flying the M2K was memorable, on every mission. If I was to place my finger on one such mission, I would choose carrying out a laser-guided bomb attack inside a valley where you are doing a lot of head down work with peripheral awareness of the mountains around you. It is this kind of training that brought us on top during Kargil. The ease with which Mirage 2000 took out Tiger Hill with just one LGB was awesome to say the least.

Low level night flying and night missions are particularly challenging and adrenaline pumping. One such mission over desert was one of the most demanding mission I ever flew, it was winter and when I landed, I was drenched in sweat.”

 

What are the top 10 fighter aircraft (BVR) of 2019? Answer here

You may also be interested in this interview with an IAF MiG-29 pilot

Which aircraft have you flown DACT against and which was the most challenging?
“I have flown DACT piloting a MiG-21 and Mirage 2000 with almost all aircraft of IAF’s inventory. Close combat is more of a skill-based deal, yes aircraft capability matters a lot, aided by systems on board, like Helmet Mounted Sights and HUD, adds to the ease of getting a kill. I would still grade skill over capability of the aeroplane. In that regard, the  DACT that I have flown against the MiG-21 Type-75 have been most memorable. A MiG-21 flown by experienced pilot can take you by surprise.”

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And why was this?
“The MiG-21 can be flown to much higher Alpha if need be, and pull higher ‘G’ if it is like a life or death situation, neither Viper nor M2K can do that. In that regard, in the able hands of someone like Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s, the MiG-21 can do great.”

How good were the sensors? “Best as of now, I am waiting to see what its big brother Rafale is going to bring to the table. Right now, with the kind of radar and other sensors Mirage 2000 I/TI has, I would rate it the best in the sub-continent. When Mirage 2000 is in the air, the Pakistani military run… and that is a fact.”

How easy is to fly? What is the hardest thing about flying it?

“Very easy to fly, basic flying is a piece of cake. Hard part is, unlike Su-30 where you have a weapon system operator, here you are on your own doing as complex missions as a Su-30. That’s why I said, in a Mirage 2000 ally it is always heads down study, practice, prepare, simulator runs etc. Fun part is flying the mission.”

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Is the cockpit tiny?

“Ha ha! That is a wrong question to a MiG 21 guy, compared to a MiG 21 which is like a one room condo, Mirage 2000 is like a palace on wheels. No! the cockpit is adequately spacious.”

You may also be interested in this interview with a PAF JF-17 pilot

How would you rate the cockpit?

“One a scale of 1-10? 10.”

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Have you fired live weapons- if so, what was it like?

“Yes! Fast, you fire and in a fraction of a second it’s gone, until you see the splash on the target, until then you wonder ‘where did it go?'”

How confident would you feel going against a modern F-16 or MiG-29?

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“It is Man-Machine-Weapon combo. There is no other in like the Mirage 2000 today in this regard. Be it BVR or close combat. Viper is underpowered machine when it’s loaded out for a mission. MiG-29 is brute power. Mirage 2000 enjoys good power in highest load-out and electronic and system suites to complement the mission.”

What is the greatest myth about the 2000?

“Since it visually looks like Mirage III and Mirage V it may manoeuvre like it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Mirage 2000 is a fly-by-wire machine, which is inherently unstable, it’s safety margin is not the aerodynamics design factor, it is the software and the fly by wire managed deal. All these leads to less drag and higher manoeuvrability.”

You may also be interested in this interview with a IAF Su-30 pilot 

How combat effective is the M2000?

“Best in the class and best in the sub-continent.”

What are the top 10 fighter aircraft (BVR) of 2019? Answer here

How reliable and easy to maintain is it?

“Frenchmen design the aeroplanes well, be it Mirage class, or Airbus. It is an engineer’s delight. Extremely easy to change components, parts, even an engine.”

Tell me something I don’t know about the Mirage?

“It’s not common knowledge that the small strake on the air intake energises the fin at high alpha thereby making it more directionally stable. This allowed for a smaller fin, saving weight and drag. That small little fixed surface on the air intake does all of this.”

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What tips would you give new pilots coming onto the M2000?

“Keep up the tradition of Mirage 2000 ally, whichever aeroplane you come from, heads down study hard, know the system, train in the simulator, go out there in the blue yonder and enjoy seeing your hard work paying off.

What is going on with Tejas? Full story here

I’ve heard the M2000 has a bad rate of sustained turn, is this an issue in air-to-air combat?

“Like I explained earlier, no, The practicality of a sustained turn in a combat situation is minuscule, fighter aeroplanes are not designed for air shows, it is designed to perform a job and that job is warfighting. In that regard Mirage 2000 does its job better than any other aeroplane.”

What is the hardest manoeuvre to pull off in a M2000?

“Low level aerobatics, it needs a lot of practice, flying currency, concentration and flawless execution.”

As a personal opinion: What should the IAF procure and what should it get rid of?

“Like the old leaves fall off and the new leaves grow, IAF too has planned its future well. It is well on its way to modernise. I cannot think of anything that IAF is not doing right this time, especially under Modi Govt. In all spheres IAF is well ahead of the curve and expectation. I have no doubt on this matter.”

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It appears that the IAF tasks the 2000 with a2g rather than a2a, why is this?

“That perception is wrong, armed with MICA, the Mirage 2000 is the most formidable fighter in the sky in air-air missions. That’s why the enemy gives Mirage a wide berth. Armed with Spice and other smart weapons, Mirage is equally formidable in air-ground work. For the general public it is the air-ground work that comes to mind, not the for the fact that many times Vipers tucked in their tails and ran away from a Mirage 2000. Therefore it may appear that way, but it is not a fact. It is a superior machine all round.”

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 In air combat with a MiG-29, who would have the advantage and why?

“Air combat has gone through a paradigm shift in my lifetime. I started with close combat missiles, then came A4M and later BVR. All of them call for different kind of skill, and aircraft capability. In that regard I would rate Mirage 2000 much higher than any aeroplane currently.”

By this you mean it’s the best air combat platform in the IAF?

“Air Combat has gone through a paradigm shift in my lifetime. I started with close combat missiles, then came A4M and later BVR. All of them call for different kind of skill, and aircraft capability. In that regard I would rate Mirage 2000 much higher than any aeroplane currently.”

 

Does this mean you consider it superior to the Su-30 for the BVR mission, if so — why?

“It would not be right to say, a particular aircraft is superior to the other in all aspects. Every aircraft, especially fighter aircraft are optimised for a certain role and manoeuvrability. Depending on how the designer envisaged it. Russians pay a lot of heed to manoeuvrability, manoeuvres that a Su 30 or a MiG-29 can do, like the Pugachevs cobra or Kulbits are signature manoeuvres that aircraft designed by the West cannot do. Why? Because they didn’t envisage that the aeroplane would need to do such a manoeuvre during air combat. As regards BVR missions, two things are very important, one is look (AKA ‘radar range’), next is the weapon that can hit far (AKA ‘weapon reach’). On paper and in real IAF scores over Pakistan in both. With inclusion of Astra, IAF has acquires indigenous capability too, which has pushed this divide between ‘haves and have nots’ even further.”

How does it compare with the Su-30?

“Su-30 has its advantage in employment in certain areas and Mirage 2000 in certain areas. Together they make a very potent force. Being part of the same side, comparison of both is meaningless. But I can say this, head to head, Su-30 or Mirage 2000 are greatly superior to the Viper, and the reason is very simple, both are later designs than the Viper. They are not underpowered like the Viper and have better weapon range and radar range.”

 What were the biggest challenges in integrating the M2000 did anything need to be changed to make the most of the aircraft?

“In that regard I would once again like to give that credit to Indo-France co-operation. The way the aeroplane was inducted into the IAF is a test bookcase of a project management. If aircraft induction was ‘T’, T minus four years, brick-by-brick things were built, training was carried out and capabilities were enhanced. When Mirage 2000 flew into India, it was like it came back to its base in France. Kudos to those magnificent flying men at that time who made this happen. The story continued during its life-cycle and during upgrade. France has been a great friend for India. Our co-operation, especially for the Air Force, it dates to the days of Dassault Ouragan i.e. June 1953.”

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How does its situational awareness compare with the Su-30 – any why?

“I haven’t flown the Su-30, however what I can say is Su-30 in the air is a nightmare for many because of its tremendous capability… because of its radar range, weapon range and load-out.”

How would you fight a MiG-29 in WVR DACT? In what altitude/speed set-ups does the M2000 have the advantage – how would the M2000 like to fight?

“The MiG-29, like any Russian fighter, manoeuvres extremely well. Like I said before, WVR depends more on pilot’s skill, his situational awareness and his/her ‘Sang Froid’ in a fight. IAF pilots score over anybody in this regard, simply because of our training. The art of WVR is something that is very close to any IAF’s pilots heart. Yes! Again same-side fight is not envisaged. Against a Viper or a JF-17? Pakistani pilots need to think twice before engaging.”

What are the top 10 fighter aircraft (BVR) of 2019? Answer here

How confident would a M2000 pilot feel going 1 v 1 against the following:

PAF JF-17

“Can beat this extremely underpowered fighter in any fight. This is not a rhetoric, I have commented on it earlier. The JF-17 project should have been shelved because it does not tick any box of a modern-day fighter.”

PAF F-16

“The F-16 was designed in the 70s to counter MiGs. Two to four within visual range missiles and one external fuel tank and that’s it. Over time this single-engine fighter has been made to do more than its design. It is a compromise, in these condition it is, again unfair to expect a Viper to win against a Mirage 2000.”

PAF Mirage

The PAF Mirage is a non fly-by-wire tailless delta. Which suffers heavily in the aerodynamic sense. You ask any aerodynamicist he will tell you the same. It has neither the (first) look nor the weapon range, and they don’t train for it either. It is more of a strike aircraft, treated, trained and used as such by Pakistan.”

PAF F7

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“Same answer as above. Both are in their last leg of life. F7 should have been retired long ago. Pakistan is not able to retire them, because they don’t have replacement yet. JF-17 was to replace them, it couldn’t, as it ran into rough weather itself: it was plagued by a plethora of issues, the engines being the major concern for Pakistan.”

When did Indian procure the Mirage 2000 and where were you trained?

“It was June of 1985 My Sqn i.e. 7 Sqn Battle Axes were formed with the latest Digital Deltas. I joined the Sqn in 97 and trained in India.”

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Which aircraft have you flown and with which units?

“I have flown Kiran Mk I and Mk-II in the academy as a cadet and later as an instructor. MiG-21 with Oorials as a Flight Commander with Warriors, and with the Eighth Pursoots as an Instructor. Mirage 2000 with the Battle Axes and with all the other Mirage 2000 units when I was the Senior Flight Safety Officer. I have also flown in Hunter, Jaguar, Pilatus, HPT-32. As a Flying Instructor I have instructed in HPT-32, Kiran & MiG-21.”

What were your first impressions of the Mirage 2000?

“I came from the MiG-21 type-75, those days only pilots from T-75 were being inducted onto the M2000 because at the end of one’s MOFT (MiG Operational Flying Training) only the top two or three graduating after 1+ year of training went to a T-75 squadron. T-75 was at that time the top-of-the-line fighter, second to only the Mirage 2000 and the MiG-29. Before induction of the Mirage 2000 and MiG-29, T-75 ruled the roost. That and since MiG-21 T-75 pilots had more combat flying experience they were the only pilots finding their way to the ASFs. The MiG-21 was an aircraft with conventional control, however, in the Mirage the pilot is inside the control loop. A pilot’s demand is a request in a FBW (Fly-by-Wire) control loop. Within the safety limit and the aircraft’s capability at that time based on the height, speed, configuration etc the aircraft adhered to your ‘request’. This was a big change. It took some time to adjust to this. Additionally, the load-out of Mirage 2000 was a quantum jump from MiG 21, therefore the amount of manuals that you need to study and understand was also big. In the Mirage allay (the place where Mirage crews stay in a station) in the evening, Fighter Pilots are found studying more than having fun. Oh yes, these changes were huge compared to the rest of the Air Force!”

What should I have asked you?

“You have tailored it well.”

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3 comments

  1. Dinesh raghavan

    Wonderful article. Thank you for your service with the IAF. The Mirage 2000 looks very sexy in IAF livery. As always hushkit has the best aviation articles.

  2. Viggo Hendrix

    Best questions in an interview of this type even from this site.
    The only lets down is the pilot and it is understandable because of the loyality to the machine and the indian air force. I found answers politically correct. May be 20 years later with new generation of pilots comming from a changed society where being politically correct is not a cherished quality. Yeah india is changing for good in regard of self confidence.

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