As the French Air Force withdraws the Mirage 2000N, the nuclear deterrence variant of the acclaimed delta fighter, after three decades of operational service, the July issue of AFM looks back on its illustrious career.
As the final operating unit, Escadron de Chasse (EC) 2/4 ‘La Fayette’ disbanded at Istres on June 26, and will reform at Saint-Dizier as a Rafale B squadron.
The number of Mirage 2000Ns in service with EC 2/4 at Istres peaked at 23 airframes in early 2016. The drawdown began last year, at the same time as deliveries of two-seat Rafales to Saint-Dizier began to increase again. By April that year, the number of 2000Ns had reduced to 20, dropping to 15 in December.
Although the Armée de l’Air has decided to keep the exact number quiet, around a dozen aircraft will be kept operational until September this year to ensure enough remain in service for the nuclear deterrence mission. By then, the new ‘La Fayette’ will have officially been re-established at Saint-Dizier, and the two nuclear squadrons, EC 1/4 ‘Gascogne’ and EC 2/4 ‘La Fayette’, will be co-located on the fast expanding air base.
Beginning last year, aircrews, maintainers and armourers began to be reposted from Istres to Saint-Dizier to ensure operational experience is kept within the nuclear deterrence community. At the time of writing, 187 personnel were still part of EC 2/4, but the number was fast decreasing.
While lacking the enormous range and weapon load of the Americans’ B-52H and the survivability of the B-2A, the Mirage 2000N has served the Armée de l’Air well. Its withdrawal will also bring to an end the permanent presence of Armée de l’Air fighters at Istres.
Remaining airframes will be stored and used for spare parts reclamation to help support the Mirage 2000D strike fighters for many years, thanks to the high level of commonality between the two variants. Another two Mirage 2000Ns will remain in use with Dassault Aviation and with the Direction Générale de l’Armement Essais en Vol (DGA EV, the French flight test centre) for specific trials programmes.