Behind IAF’s new deal for Mirage 2000 spares is a 40-year saga of missed opportunities

By The Print

The Indian Air Force signed a contract worth about Rs 300 crore with a French private firm on 31 August for the purchase of phased-out Mirage 2000 aircraft to be used as ‘Christmas trees’ for spares.

The French Air Force has fully phased out Mirage 2000s in favour of the Rafale, but India currently has a fleet of 50 Mirages still in service. This is the second deal the country has signed in the last one year to ensure spares for them — sources said the IAF had last year also signed an agreement with the French Air Force for supplying 16 phased-out Mirages, whose delivery was completed this year.

Nearly half the Mirage fleet in India has gone through an extensive upgrade, increasing the aircraft’s life-cycle. But the upgrade process is slow. Upgrades mean that India’s Mirages will fly for at least another decade. And hence, a need was felt to ensure that there are enough spares in supply for the aircraft.

“Slowly, the Mirages are being phased out by countries which were using them. Production of spares will decrease over time, and eventually, they will have to be produced especially for us. This means that the cost will rise significantly, and hence, steps are being taken to ensure that we have spares in supply,” a source in the defence and security establishment told ThePrint.

Sources made it clear that contrary to certain reports, the steps taken by the IAF are “for supporting the existing fleet and improving availability”, and not for adding to the inventory of India’s Mirage 2000 fleet. “The deal is not for aircraft which can be flown,” a second source said.

Explaining the thinking behind the 31 August deal, sources said the Mirages purchased will come in containers as knocked-down versions.

“There are parts of an aircraft which are used till breakdown; for example, the wings. If tomorrow any of our aircraft wings develops a crack, the wing from the second-hand aircraft can be used. Similarly, while Indian Mirages have a more powerful engine, 80 per cent of our engine is the same as the original, and hence many parts can be used as well,” a third source said.

Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director general of the Centre of Air Power Studies, welcomed the move.

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