India has finally signed the $ 2.4 billion contract with two French defence firms Thales and Dassault for upgrading 51 Mirage combat jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF). The Cabinet Committee on Security had given the deal a nod in mid-July and the commercial contract between the French firms and Indian government has finally been inked.
As per the French firms, the Mirage-2000 aircraft upgrade will further enhance the technical-operational capabilities of the jets. The upgrade of the IAF’s Mirage-2000 fleet will involve the integration of latest generation equipment and systems. Two of the planes will be upgraded in France by manufacturer Dassault Aviation, two in India with French help and the remaining 48 entirely by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in India. The upgrade of the entire fleet will take nine years.
The upgrades on the Mirage combat jets include a night vision goggle-compatible glass cockpit, advanced navigational systems, advanced Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system, advanced multi-mode multi-layered radar, fully integrated electronic warfare suite and advanced beyond visual range (BVR) capability. The weapon integration includes 450 MICA interception and aerial combat missiles. Thales and another French firm, MBDA, will be the weapons systems integrator and missiles supplier respectively.
In India, there has been a divided opinion between the Defence Ministry and IAF regarding the Mirage-2000 upgrade since the deal is high-priced. Apparently, with the inclusion of the new weapons costing over $ 700 million (MBDA-made Mica air-to-air missiles) that will re-arm the aircraft and another $ 500 million for new facilities at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will make it the costliest fighter upgrade by India. Eventually, the cost of the upgrade will make the retrofitted Mirage combat jet as expensive as the 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for $ 10.4 billion for the IAF which will be finalized soon. However, those who support the upgrade deal have argued that once upgraded, the Mirage aircraft will be as lethal and capable as a new combat plane.
The IAF inducted the Mirage-2000 between 1982 and 1986. The Mirage 2000 is the most important aircraft with the IAF fleet after the Sukhoi-30. The upgrade is crucial since the induction of the MMRCA and the light combat aircraft is still a few years away. The fighter squadron strength of the IAF stands at around 34 compared to the sanctioned 39 and half.