Best 4th Generation Fighter

A lightweight aircraft boasting diverse multi-role functionality, the Mirage 2000 epitomizes fourth-generation fighter jets.

Despite being overshadowed by more glamorous aircraft over the last 30 years, the Dassault Mirage 2000 series of multi-role fighter jets has quietly delivered excellent functionality and cost efficiency for its operators, which as of 2012, includes nations from Europe, through the Middle East and on to Asia. Of course, it is not all fiber-hyped eco-credentials and safety features that have heightened and maintained the Mirage’s popularity among air forces worldwide – but primarily its ability to deliver extreme lethality to air, sea and land targets alike with a whole arsenal of deadly weapons.

We’re talking nine hardpoints, two powerful revolving 30-millimetre (1.2-inch) cannons, multiple Matra rocket pods each capable of launching 18 68-millimetre (2.7-inch) unguided rockets, two R550 Magic short-range air-to-air missiles, two Super 530 medium-range air-to-air missiles, two Exocet AM-39 anti-ship missiles, two AS-30L, laser-guided air-to-ground missiles and the motherload… the ability to deliver a single ASMP tactical nuclear cruise missile into the heart of any region within a 300-kil0metre (186-mile) range. As mentioned, when you have this vastness and flexibility of payload on offer, maintenance becomes less of an issue, as let a 2000-series out of the hangar and soon there are no targets left to hit.

Best 4th Generation FighterComplementing this insane level of firepower are equally mind-boggling performance characteristics, something granted by the collaboration of a slick delta-wing planform and explosive SNECMA M53-P2 afterburning turbofan powerplant. The M53-P2 enables the Mirage 2000 to hit a top speed of 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) per hour and allows it to climb to an altitude of 16,154metres (53,000 feet) in a minute. The engine’s power – which produces on afterburner a maximum of 98 kilonewtons (22,000 pounds force) of thrust – is enhanced thanks to the 2000’s adjustable half-cone air intakes, which provide inclined shocks of air pressure for an incredibly efficient air intake at high speeds.

And it is at these high speeds that the Mirage 2000’s delta-wing planform comes into its own, delivering an almost snake-like agility and fluidity of movement that was difficult to match. This works because the triangular rearward sweep angle of the jet’s wings vastly lowers the airspeed normal to their leading edges, while ensuring the over-wing speed remains less than the speed of sound. This, when combined with their inherent large surface area, grants huge lift and minimal wing per unit loading and, as such, super-high airframe manoeuvrability.

This agility is further enhanced by the Mirage being designed with an offset neutral point, which is pushed further forward than its centre of gravity. This makes the aircraft fundamentally unstable during flight, which enables the pilot to make tighter, physics-bending moves that aren’t possible in other jets.

Indeed, the double-whammy of awesome performance and potential to deal massive damage when cleared for takeoff is ensuring that, despite the Mirage production programme ceasing back in 2007, the jet is still being actively used today, representing countries at both home and abroad. A good example of this continued respect for the aircraft’s abilities can be seen in France’s recent deployment of Mirage 2000s in the enforcement of the no-fly zone in Libya back in 2011.

Facts about Mirage 2000

4th Generation Fighter Mirage 2000Nuclear – The Mirage 2000 can carry and launch an ASMP nuclear cruise missile. This is a supersonic stand-off missile powered by a liquid-fuel ramjet. It has a max range of 300km (186mi).

Varied – The Mirage 2000 is currently operated in many countries worldwide, ranging from its origin country, France, to nations the other side of the planet like Brazil and India.

Marcel – The Mirage’s manufacturer, Dassault Aviation, was founded by Marcel Dassault in 1930. The company is now the foremost aerial defence contractor in France.

Zippy – The design phase of the Mirage 2000 project was incredibly swift, with the jet going from concept, through prototyping to production in just seven years (1975-1982).

Libya – Despite being introduced almost 30 years ago, the Mirage 2000 is still in active service. Most recently, French Mirage 2000s helped enforce the Libyan no-fly zone in 2011.