Egypt’s Mirage 2000 Decision: After a Strange One Off Purchase Will the Squadron be Upgraded or Retired?

The Mirage 2000 lightweight single-engine fighter entered service in the French Air Force from 1984, six years after it saw its first flight, and provided the country with a direct analogue to the U.S. Air Force’s F-16 Fighting Falcons which had begun to be fielded from 1978. 

It was initially developed alongside the heaver Mirage 4000 which was intended as an analogue to the F-15 - although this was cancelled due to budgetary constraints and a lack of foreign interest. 

The canard delta wing Mirage 2000 was more expensive than the F-16, as a result of both the lower efficiency of the French defence sector and the smaller scale of production, but used a significantly weaker engine and had no comparable weaponry to the AIM-7 Sparrow missile used by the American fighter. 

The Mirage nevertheless saw exports to a number of F-16 clients as a means of diversifying their fleets and saw its first-ever export to the Egyptian Air Force. Egypt began to receive its first aircraft in 1985, and a squadron of 14 fighters was operational by the end of the following year. 

Reports indicate the Egyptian Air Force acquired 17 of the aircraft in total, forming a single small squadron as part of a one-off purchase which made the country the smallest client for the Mirage 2000. 

Egypt's decision to place no further orders for the Mirage 2000 was thought to be largely motivated by the fact that the F-16 was a cheaper aircraft and provided free of charge as part of over a billion dollars in annual U.S. aid to the country. 

While the F-16 was generally considered a more capable fighter, those sold to Egypt were very heavily downgraded with poor avionics and no access to modern munitions for air to air or strike roles which meant that the Mirages in Egyptian service may well have been more capable. 

30 years after the first Mirage 2000s began to be built for Egypt, the Egyptian Air Force began to invest heavily from 2014 in modernising its inventory and acquiring a modern anti-aircraft capability — something previously almost completely lacking for several decades. 

The decision followed an unexpected NATO attack on neighbouring Libya, which sent shockwaves across the region and drove home the imminent nature of the Western threat posed even to countries supposedly on good terms with the U.S. and its European allies. It also followed the overthrow of Egypt’s Western aligned Islamist government in 2013, which caused a deterioration of relations with the United States in particular and led Egypt to stop purchasing American fighter aircraft after having relied heavily on them for almost 40 years.  

With Egypt beginning to retire its F-16s, it has acquired a new generation of ‘4+ generation’ fighter aircraft including the lightweight French Rafale, the Russian MiG-29M and the heavyweight Russian Su-35. 

These have provided the country with its first-ever modern anti-aircraft missiles, namely R-77 and R-73 for the Russian fighters alongside possibly the R-37M, and the MICA for the Rafale. 

Modern Rafale variants come equipped with the Meteor long-range air to air missile as a standard armament, although these have reportedly been blocked for export o Egypt forcing it to rely on the much older and less capable medium-ranged MICA. This represents part of a long trend towards Western powers denying Egypt access to modern air to air missiles, with the country’s F-16s arbitrarily denied access to the AIM-120 missiles which has left their capabilities almost totally obsolete. 

The fate of Egypt’s sole Mirage 2000s squadron remains uncertain, and the aircraft may either be retired alongside the F-16s or upgraded to complement the Rafales. 

While the U.S. has denied Egypt the AIM-120 for its F-16s, since France has already sold the country the MICA for the Rafale it may well also be willing to equip the Mirage 2000s with these missiles — which while far from exceptional would still represent very major upgraded over its current totally obsolete Magic missiles or the F-16's AIM-7. 

Egypt may instead opt to retire its Mirage squadron, as while there is some interoperability with the Rafale keeping a single unique squadron in service imposes a much greater maintenance burden than keeping F-16s operational due to the sheer numbers in which the latter is deployed. 

The age of the French jets in service, which are the oldest Mirage 2000s still flying in the world and are older than most of Egypt’s F-16s, means that it is likely they will see early retirement as many parties including Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Greece move to phase their fleets out of service. 

The Mirage 2000 is expected to be the last French fighter to be an export success, with its successor the Rafale struggling by comparison on global markets with only three clients for newly built airframes, and future generations set to be built under joint programs with European partners. 

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