Staff Writer (Updated: 5/18/2016):
The French Dassault Aviation concern made for itself a considerable name during the Cold War. The firm was founded in 1930 and headquartered out of Paris, France. While World War 2 in Europe disrupted much of its early potential, the firm regrouped during the formative rebuilding years in France. After the war, the concern generated some of the finest jet-powered French platforms which went on to see considerable success in the overseas market. In 1979, the French government bought Dassault stock shares and went on to own upwards of 46% of the company. Today, the firm employs over 12,400 personnel.
Some of the key developments of Dassault during this critical time became the Dassault Ouragan of 1949. The Ouragan was notable for it being the first indigenous jet-powered combat fighter after the end of World War 2. Up to then, the country had relied solely on foreign purchases of jet-powered aircraft for its inventory. The Dassault Mystere IV of 1952 proved another very successful design with its basic appearance and jet-powered nature. The first "true" success came in the form of the Dassault Mirage III series, a sleek, streamlined mount powered by a single engine placement utilizing a delta-wing configuration with a single vertical tail fin. The aircraft appeared in 1956 and proved an excellent air-to-air and air-to-ground platform, particularly in Israeli hands during the Six Day War of 1967. The Dassault Mirage F.1 was the next logical evolution in the series but moved away from the delta-wing planform. instead, mounting swept wings at the shoulder. This type, like the Mirage III before it, proved another Dassault success and was a true multi-role jet fighter in every sense of the word. Export numbers proved strong.
Birth of the Mirage 2000
By this time, work had begun on other more modern projects to succeed initial offerings. Origins of the Mirage 2000 itself lay in an original joint British-French program entitled "Anglo-French Variable Geometry" (AFVG) with the goal of producing a "swing-wing" multi-role aircraft platform. The program began in 1965 but the French retreated from the program after just a short two years of involvement, leading to the project's formal cancellation. Regardless, the British later teamed up with the West Germans and Italians and ultimately created the successful Panavia Tornado swing-wing multi-role strike fighter out of the "Multi-Role Combat Aircraft" (MRCA) program that ensued. In the meantime, Dassault engineers continued work on several products to fulfill an evolving French government requirement that was entitled "Avion de Combat Futur" (ACF - Future Combat Aircraft) - or "Super Mirage". The early approach, featuring two SNECMA M53-3 turbofan engines, was regarded as too large and costly for the need, resulting in the project's cancellation by the French government in 1975. A new requirement in 1976 sought a cost effective and lightweight solution built around a single SNECMA engine and smaller overall scale. The new aircraft design direction became known as the "Mirage 2000".
Mirage 2000 Walk-Around
Externally, the Mirage 2000 shared the same aerodynamic profile as that of the Mirage III before it. Dassault engineers sought to iron out the low-level handling issues and range limitations of its predecessor by the implementation of a delta-wing configuration and a computerized fly-by-wire control network that would assist the airframe in remaining stable when aerodynamic laws said otherwise - the Mirage 2000 was Dassault's first aircraft to utilize such technology. The type would also introduce HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle and Stick) control, HUD (Heads-Up Display) and CRT display screens in the cockpit of French fighter aircraft. A Thomson-CSF RDM multi-mode mission radar would be fitted under the nose cone to help with target tracking and engagement. The Mirage 2000 would be primarily categorized as an interceptor but with strike capabilities being an added forte and power would come from a single SNECMA M53-5 afterburning turbofan engine of 19,800lbs thrust. The aircraft frame would be both thin and light, resulting in the agile system the French government sought. French authorities approved of the design on December 18th, 1975 with the intention of replacing the aging Mirage F.1 series.
The Mirage 2000 addressed two key concerns of previous Mirage forms. The delta-wing planform allowed for greater internal fuel loads which directly increased operational ranges and it also allowed for considerably more in the way of ordnance carriage. Conversely, such an arrangement also led to inherently poor performance, instability and inadequate agility which is why the digital fly-by-wire proved essential to her design success. The single SNECMA powerplant was aspirated by a split intake duct system beginning at either side of the single-seat cockpit. To maintain a streamlined form in profile, the cockpit contoured directly into the fuselage spine. The nose cone was very sharp in appearance and the vertical tail fin was fitted well-aft of amidships, this over the large circular exhaust ring at the rear of the SNECMA powerplant. Since the aircraft used the delta-wing planform, no horizontal tail planes were needed at the rear of the design. The undercarriage was conventionally tricycle in nature and fully retractable. An in-flight refueling probe was permanently set to the right of the cockpit front along the forward fuselage.
Mirage 2000 Variants
Five prototypes were eventually produced and the first one became airborne over Istres on March 10th, 1978. Early evaluations were highly promising and proved the Mirage 2000 concept utterly sound, capable of exceeding previous Mirage offerings and then some. Serial production was secured and the first production Mirage 2000 became the "Mirage 2000C" ("C" for "Chasseur", meaning "Fighter") single-seat interceptor series. The aircraft first flew on November 20th, 1982 and the French Air Force accepted deliveries of some 124 aircraft the following year with her initial squadron being activated in 1984. Initially, the Mirage 2000C fitted the multi-mode Thompson-CSF RDM / RDI pulse Doppler radar system in the nose, this later giving way to the ore advanced Thales RDY radar allowed for tracking of up to 24 individual targets with "track while scan" focused on eight of these threats.