Zelensky’s Flying French Fries: How do Mirage 2000s Measure up to the F-16s?

Ukraine might get French Mirage fighters for faster training, but some experts question their effectiveness compared to the desired F-16s.

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Ilya Evlash, the representative of the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, told the Ukrainian edition of Voice of America that American-made F-16 fighters are the most promising and anticipated aircraft in Ukraine. However, the French Mirage 2000-5 can also serve as a valuable addition to Ukrainian combat aviation. The publication interviewed seven American pilots, aviators, retired Pentagon representatives, and Ukrainian military pilots; all consented to provide their evaluations anonymously.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine expressed optimism that French aircraft would soon be visible in Ukrainian skies during a visit to Normandy. French President Emmanuel Macron announced his intention to transfer Mirage 2000 fighters manufactured by Dassault to Ukraine and to train Ukrainian pilots as part of Ukrainian-French military cooperation. Macron did not specify the number of fighters France would provide; however, he stated that they plan to train Ukrainian pilots by the end of the year. While Reuters writes that 20 Mirage 2000-5 may be transferred to Ukraine, there are references from the French media that the number might be just 5.

The Mirage 2000, F-16, and MiG-29 are multi-role supersonic fourth-generation fighters, but they differ significantly. The Mirage 2000 and F-16 are single-engine, while the MiG-29 is twin-engine.

The Mirage 2000 made its first flight in 1978 and was inducted by the French Air Force in 1984. 600 Mirage 2000s were produced, and half were exported to eight countries: Brazil, Egypt, Greece, India, Peru, Qatar, Taiwan, and the UAE.

The aircraft’s length is about 14 meters, its wingspan is about nine meters, it weighs 7.5 tons without combat load, and it reaches a maximum speed of up to 2.2 Mach, or about 2700 kilometers per hour.

The F-16 flew in 1976 and was introduced to the U.S. Air Force in 1979. Over 4,600 F-16s have been produced and are flown by more than 25 countries worldwide at various times.

F-16C Block 50
F-16C Block 50.Image: Internet

The F-16 has a fuselage length of about 15 meters, a wingspan of about nine meters, an empty weight of nine tons, and a maximum speed exceeding Mach 2, or about 2,400 kilometers per hour.

The MiG-29 flew in 1977 and was introduced to the Soviet Air Force in 1983. Warsaw Pact states and other Soviet Union allies used it.

Its length is over 17 meters, wingspan is over 11 meters, and its maximum speed exceeds Mach 2 or 2,450 kilometers per hour.

However, the decisive factor in combat application is that only the F-16 has been modernized and improved over the years, making them truly multifunctional aircraft, sources from the Ukrainian service of “Voice of America” say.

Experts explain that a plane’s combat capabilities are determined by its radar capabilities, defense systems, electronic warfare systems, etc., as well as the armaments it can carry. This information is a military secret, so aviators explain that the data available in open sources often do not correspond to reality.

Disadvantages of French Aircraft

An experienced retired American pilot who flew F-16s points out the flaws in the Mirages’ design features, particularly the triangular delta wing, which makes the plane “not maneuver well in close combat.”

“We stopped making them 60 years ago,” he notes. The pilot recounts encounters with Mirages during Middle East wars and joint exercises: “I can’t say anything good about them. The most dangerous thing about them is that they have no idea how bad they are.”

Another American pilot, formerly flying fighter jets, believes that “the French make good things.”

The American pilot also explains that such deals benefit France, which earns significant money from arms sales. Therefore, the Mirage 2000 agreement with Ukraine could be good advertising for the French, especially since Russia, another player in the international military technology market, has increased its equipment export since the start of the full-scale war.

Regarding international security cooperation, the French often sell or provide technologies without further agreements for training, technical maintenance, and logistical support necessary for operating such weaponry, explains a former U.S. Department of Defense official who previously piloted F-16s.

“In normal conditions, according to American defense technology sales programs, the prices of weaponry usually include long-term training, support, and logistical backing. It’s an ‘all-inclusive’ principle,” he says, adding that he is concerned whether the French will provide the necessary support to the Ukrainians.

Advantages of the Mirage 2000

Ukrainians could undergo faster training on the Mirage 2000 than on the F-16, as the requirements for English proficiency and knowledge of Western tactics and procedures are not as stringent.

“There will also be no need to search for and hire instructors from contractor companies or find places in training centers. It may be possible to conduct training directly in units with active military instructors,” a Ukrainian combat pilot told “Voice of America.”

This could be important given the delays in training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s in Europe and the U.S. and the limited number of training slots for Ukrainian pilots, as reported by American media. Politico, for instance, wrote that Ukraine has 30 pilots who can immediately start training in the U.S., but the training center in Arizona can only accommodate 12. Denmark is stopping training on these fighters, and the training center in Romania is not yet ready.

Although the F-16s “excel in all respects,” Mirage 2000 fighters can be a useful addition to the Ukrainian military aviation, which currently consists only of Soviet MiG-29s and Su-27s, says a retired American military officer who also flew F-16s.

Another military pilot from the U.S. and a former Pentagon official notes that if the Mirages can carry French-British SCALP/Storm Shadow missiles, “this will be their biggest difference from the F-16” because American fighters cannot be armed with French missiles.

“The more aircraft for Ukraine, the better. You may see some people complaining that trying to adopt two aircraft at once is a bad idea. It’s not optimal, but they will manage,” adds the U.S. Air Force officer.

A Ukrainian tactical aviation pilot stated that he welcomes receiving the Mirages, provided that the main programs for supplying Ukraine with F-16s and ammunition are not adversely affected. He said the French planes “can support our bombing aviation, provided that these aircraft can use French SCALP cruise missiles or engage in air combat with MBDA Meteor missiles, thereby strengthening the fighter aviation of the Air Force of Ukraine.”

“In conjunction with future F-16s and the Saab 340 airborne early warning and control aircraft, in coordination with the ground-based air defense system, the effectiveness of our aviation will significantly increase,” he says.

“Ultimately, if they can carry and launch various long-range precision munitions, they will be useful,” another former Pentagon official concludes.


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