The Dassault Mirage F1 was designed to replace the successful Dassault Mirage III series. With a host of new features added to this new aircraft, the Mirage F1 would be a substantial upgrade to the whole Mirage family that would continue in service well into the new millennium. The Mirage F1 was built with capability and a multi-role perspective in mind. The aircraft was designed for high-speed handling with low or high-altitude performance, multi-faceted capabilities in the fighter or strike aircraft role and provide the pilot with some minor conveniences for long sorties requiring short turnaround times. The Mirage F1 served with distinction, particularly in the Greek Hellenic Air Force, where her arrival proved a deterrent to Turkish air space incursions for some 28 years. Over 720 Mirage F1 examples have been produced. The F1 remains one of the most battle-tested aircraft systems of the Cold War.
The F1 first flew in a Dassault-funded prototype form on December 23rd, 1966, intended as a replacement for the aging Mirage III and Mirage 5 models. Unlike previous Dassault offerings, the F1 did away with the traditional low-mounted, delta-wing configuration and instead was fitted with a high-mounted, swept wing arrangement. The French Air Force liked what it saw in the promising design and selected it for further development in the form of additional prototypes in May of 1967. The French Air Force envisioned the type as an all-weather interceptor capable of handling any of the new generation threats available. The resulting design proved a far better product than the aircraft the F1 was intended on replacing, sporting high-performance, sleek lines and a powerful Cyrano radar system. Production inevitably commenced and full operational status was achieved in May 1973.
The single engine, high-mounted swept-wing aircraft was powered by a single SNECMA Atar 9K-50 afterburning turbojet 15,785lb engine fed by two side-mounted intakes. The F1 sported a single-seat cockpit positioned in the forward portion of the streamlined fuselage. Amenities such as a self-starter, shaded canopy glass and pressured refueling system provided operators of the aircraft with the advantage of a low maintenance, highly capable aircraft. Further developments (beginning with the Mirage F1C-200) went on to integrate an in-flight refueling probe to which the combat radius was increased substantially. The unique high-mounted swept-wing design coupled with the single vertical tail fin afforded the aircraft the ability to take off and land with a minimal use of runway.
Standard armament were twin 30mm cannons along with 2 x Matra R530 series medium-range air-to-air missiles. Missiles were initially held under the wings though wingtip rails were later added for the use of Matra R550 Magic and AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles, the latter at the behest of the American-friendly Hellenic Air Force of Greece (operating Mirage F1CG models of their own).
The base F1 fighter was exported as the F1CE (Spain), F1CG (Greece), F1CH (Morocco), F1CJ (Jordan), F1CK (Kuwait), F1CK-2 (Kuwait - follow-up order) and F1CZ (South Africa) with orders totaling some 175 exported aircraft. The two-seat F1B trainer was marketed overseas as well along with the F1A single-seat ground-attack fighter. The F1E became an all-weather, multi-role fighter and ground-attack variant. The Mirage F1D was a two-seat trainer spawned from the F1E multi-role, ground-attack fighter model. The Mirage F1CR was a dedicated reconnaissance model. The Mirage F1CT became a tactical ground attack variant based on the Mirage F1C-200. F1AZ and F1CZ were South African exports of ground-attack and radar-equipped models respectively. The Mirage F1CG were Greek-operated single-seat fighters, amounting over 100,000 thousand hours of flight time over water with little structural stress to show for it. The Mirage F1M-53 was a developmental Mirage F1 meant to compete in NATO trials for replacing the Lockheed F-104 Starfighters then in service (the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon eventually won out).
The aircraft became a highly regarded interceptor - one of the best at the time of its inception - based on capabilities and its powerful nose-mounted radar. The system could track and engage multiple targets at any altitude all at the discretion of the pilot. The integrated weapon system could go so far as to select the appropriate weapon based on circumstance and fire the weapon when the target achieved an in optimal range.
In terms of combat exposure (the sure testing grounds of any aircraft design) the F1 was at the fore-front of several Cold War-era conflicts the world over. Mirages participated with the South African Air Force in their Border War. Morocco utilized the type to combat local rebels. Ecuador fielded the aircraft in their Paquisha War and follow-up Cenepa War against Peru. France got a chance to check out the F1's lethality in its actions against Libyan rebels operating against Chad. Spain operated their F1's in varying forms for over three decades before replacing them with Eurofighter Typhoons.
Iraq was a highly-publicized user of F1's. They sported the type in their war with Iran with moderate success in anti-shipping, interception and strike roles. Overall, inferior pilot training and lack of combat experience led to the F1 underachieving for the most part. Similarly in the 1991 Gulf War, Mirage F1's were wholly outclassed by Coalition forces, though, again not due to a lack of capability on the part of the aircraft.
More recently (2007), France has fielded some F1's in actions covering Southern Afghanistan. As of this writing, Greece, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and South Africa no longer employ the services of Mirage F1's.
In the end, the F1 series proved a welcomed addition to the Mirage family line. Modernization programs and updates to the avionics and weapon systems have ensured that the Mirage F1 will stay airborne for several more years. Undoubtedly, the system will continue to see service in Third World countries far longer than that. The French Air Force operated F1's until their displacement by the newer Mirage 2000 series. A major consideration to the F1 as a whole is its longevity after decades of consistent (and heavy-duty) use - no doubt a testament to a winning design.