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french jets in Afghanistan


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During holidays, I read a lot of French air magazines. In an extra issue of Science & Vie on Aviation 2009 I read an interesting article on French jets in Afghanistan. They field Mirage 2000D strike aircraft and the Rafale F.2.


The Mirage 2000D is a classic strike fighter optimized for speed at low level. The whole concept is to strike predefined heavily defended targets. As might be expected, it proves difficult to adapt to the Afghanistan missions, which are often close-in CAS and NTISR.

  • For ISR or buddy target illumination, the Mirage needs to fly in a circle of 3 km diameter at 1.5g and a minimum speed of 300 kts (555 km/h)
  • The PDLCT-S pod is optimized to lock onto structures and tanks, it has insufficent resolution and algorythms to be able to track a group of militants
  • With a fuel consumption of 3000kg/hr, a Mirage needs refuelling every 90 minutes
  • Since it needs additional external fuel tanks, it can only carry 2 GBU-12 bombs
  • The Mirage lacks ROVER downlink to JTAC
  • Pilots have a sweaty and miserable existence in their crammed cockpit
  • Mirage is sure fast on target, but it sure looses time when there due to communications/sensor deficiencies

Of course, Rafale is much better equipped, but still not ideally suited for CAS/ISR:

  • twin engine has more adequate power for hot & high
  • very precise navigation avionics
  • more manoevrable
  • more fuel capacity and endurance
  • much better payload with 6 x GBU-12
  • Link-16
  • better DIRCM
  • will sport modern day Damocles pod in 2010, ROVER ordered (currently the Rafale crew uses .. not joking ... a set of binoculars!!!)
  • somewhat spacier cockpit

This will make Rafale more on par with what F-16 brings to the Afghanistan battlefield, with slightly more endurance.


But the French clearly envy the Predator/Reaper series for this theatre, they now field the MALE UAV, a Heron derivative.


Let's face it: with the fuel a Mirage burns on take-off alone, a Reaper flies a 12hr mission at a safe 7 K altitude or higher, and adds to the 2 GBU-12 4 hellfire missiles and second-to-none sensors. Not as fast on target? totally wrong: it already IS above the target since it stays airborne all the time while classic strike fighters are bingo fuel.


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