Murphy's Law: Mirage 2000 Stranded In The Bewilderness

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December 28, 2017: Back in 2006 India decided to upgrade its 52 (now 49) Mirage 2000 fighters. This would cost of $35 million per aircraft and work finally got started in 2015 but is taking longer and costing more than anticipated. Cost has grown to $45 million per aircraft. Part of the delay was due to Indian insistence that most of the work be done in India. That meant Indian technicians had to be trained, often in France and special tools and equipment had to be obtained from France. The Indian military procurement bureaucracy is famous (or infamous) for its sloth and inefficiency and that has been a big part of the problem with getting the upgrades done. In this case there is also an epic “failure to communicate” to deal with.

The latest delay occurred when the Mirage 2000 maintenance contracts with the French manufacturer (Dassault) expired in November 2017 and the Indian Air Force, which normally pays this fee ($15 million a year for all 47 Indian Mirage 2000 jets) but in 2017 the air force insisted it was the responsibility of the Indian firm HAL, which was doing the upgrades, should pay the upgrade fee. HAL disputed this and pointed out such a payment was not mentioned in the 2011 contract with HAL that paid the Indian firm $900 million for work done in India. Another 2011 contract, worth $2.1 billion, went to Dassault and other French firms to supply new component and technical services and that one did not mention shifting the annual maintenance contract to HAL until the upgrades were done, or whatever. As always it is unclear exactly what is going on here. All concerned parties do agree that they are talking to each other and the government is pressuring the procurement bureaucrats to clear this up as soon as possible. That could take months or years.

This maintenance contract dispute is not unique. Earlier there was a problem with the inability of Indian procurement officials to approve orders for spare parts for the Mirage 2000s, as well as for the items needed for the upgrades. Because of the delays in getting needed spares at least a dozen of the Mirage 2000s are grounded, some of them since 2010. It is also difficult to get politicians to agree on things like upgrades to older equipment, but the larger problem is the inefficient and often ineffective procurement officials.

So far seven Mirage 2000s have completed the upgrade, delivered to the air force and are awaiting certification. That might take years. The HAL says they can upgrade ten Mirage 2000s a year but no one with a knowledge of how these things work in India believes that.

The upgraded Mirage 2000s are getting new radar with 90 kilometers range (a 20 percent increase). The new fire control systems, modern electronic warfare systems and digital communications will make the Mirage 2000s capable of handling the most modern Pakistani and Chinese fighters. Other components (like the airframe and engines) were also to be refurbished. After the upgrade, the twenty year old Mirage 2000s would be good for another twenty years of service. The upgrade price includes a supply of MICA, long range (50 kilometers) radar guided missiles which are similar to the U.S. AMRAAM.

While expensive, the upgrade would turn the Mirage 2000 fighters into long range air-to-air killers and extend their useful life another 15 years. These aircraft could very efficiently knock down their Chinese or Pakistani opponents (which are equipped with less capable Chinese FD-60 long range missiles.) Meanwhile Pakistan has received new F-16 fighters as well as upgrades for their older ones. Pakistan is receiving American AMRAAM missiles as well. The Indians expect the French to provide electronic warfare equipment that can give AMRAAM a hard time. How well that works won't be seen until, and if, there's another large scale war between India and Pakistan. China uses copies of the latest Russian Su-30 fighters and the upgraded Mirage 2000s, as well as Indian Su-30s, are supposed to be competitive with those.

 


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