NARRATIVE BY LEWIS GAYLARD & IMAGES BY MARK ROURKE
Muti-role Hellenic Mirages
Anti-ship capabilities provided by Greek Dassault Mirage 2000s are a vital NATO asset in the increasingly contested waters of the Mediterranean. Few squadrons in the alliance are assigned this over-water mission, making the jets a prized component in the defence of Europe’s southern flank. The French-built Mirage 2000 has been in Hellenic Air Force (HAF) service since the late 1980s, but upgrades are doubtful because of the country’s continuing financial woes.
Base for the delta-winged fighters is Tanagra, around 31 miles (50km) north of Athens. It is home to 114th Combat Wing (CW), comprising the 331st All-Weather Squadron (AWS), which operates the 2000-5 Mk2, and the 332nd AWS flying the 2000EG/BG. The 331st AWS was formed in April 1988, with the name Thisseas, an ancient Greek hero, who in mythology successfully battled the monster Minotaur in the Labyrinth. Pilots were selected from throughout the HAF. Several went to France as part of an initial programme involving French Air Force, instructors. Operations began the following year.
Weapons instructor for the 331st AWS is currently Capt Papotis ‘Harry’ Charalampos, who is one of the country’s most experienced officers. He joined as an academy student in 2002 and graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant in 2006. Flight training was completed early the following year and Capt Charalampos later in 2007 went to Tanagra to start conversion to the Mirage 2000. He joined his current unit in 2008. The 331st is primarily for air combat, but like its counterparts on 332nd AWS, maintains a secondary attack capability that keeps Capt Charalampos busy. He said both variants looked the same to an untrained eye. “The biggest difference between the 2000EG and the 2000-5 Mk2 is the avionics upgrade.
‘’The Greek version of the 2000-5 is the most modern version of this type. As soon as you enter the cockpit you’ll see five multi-function displays (MFDs) and the modern ‘man-machine’ interface is excellent; Dassault did a very good job,” he said. ‘’The classic delta shape of the Mirage 2000 gives it superb flight characteristics at both supersonic and slow speeds. It has very good manoeuvrability with a high angle of attack (AoA) when in close air-to-air combat, and at slow speeds. The pilot can easily handle the aircraft down to speeds of 70kts, which gives a big advantage.” Capt Charalampos said it was inherently unstable, like all modern fighters. A fly-by-wire system, coupled with the good aerodynamic airframe, made it formidable in combat he commented. ‘’Being unstable means that if a pilot should suffer an engine failure, he’s unable to control the aircraft. We do have a couple of procedures: try to re-light the engine or, if that’s not possible, eject. “Depending on circumstances a pilot might be able to perform a flame-out landing, but that is dictated by the time and place of the engine failure. That’s part of the training we do here at Tanagra, to be ready for any situation; any time, any place. Fortunately, the Mirage is extremely reliable and we don’t often suffer from engine or system failures. ‘’Both 331st AWS and 332nd AWS are primarily air superiority squadrons, but both have secondary roles with 331st being tasked with long-range attack and 332nd with anti-ship.” The aircraft can use a variety of ‘dumb’ weapons and laser-guided bombs but have primary weapons for their designated attack roles. “The 332nd AWS employs the Exocet missile, which is very effective. There are very few squadrons within NATO that carry out this mission, which makes 332nd’s experience very, very important.” Only mission commanders take on anti-ship duties because of the complexity and demands of the task. They organise not only their own plans, but also formations for fighter escorts and counter-measures aircraft.”
For air superiority, the 331st AWS uses MBDA Mica missiles, carrying up to six. Capt Charalampos said: “We use two different types of Mica: the IR is a heat-seeking missile that we use in short-range combat, and the RF, which is radar-guided and used in beyond-visual-range (BVR) engagements. We can carry a mix of IR and RF missiles, for example four RF and two IR. This is a problem for an adversary as he doesn’t know which type of missile is fired at him, so it makes his job of defeating it extremely difficult. We can also use the short-range, heat-seeking MBDA R-550 Magic 2 missile. ‘’For our secondary role of ground attack, we can employ a single MBDA Scalp [called Storm Shadow in British service] long-range cruise missile. The Scalp is a strategic missile that we would use against control centres, fuel-dumps and the like, for example. The most important aspect of the missile is that we can hit targets from a long distance and with great accuracy, this also helps with our attack survivability.” MBDA quotes the missile’s range as “in excess of 250km [155 miles]”. He continued: “In the Mirage 2000-5, our typical configuration can be a single Scalp missile, two under-wing drop tanks and a different combination of up to six air-to-air missiles. So, in a ‘swing-role’ mission we can launch the Scalp missile and then are able to defend ourselves throughout the rest of the mission.” The jet is capable of air-to-air refuelling and the Greeks practise regularly with the French Air Force especially during overseas operations. “The French Air Force and the HAF have a very good relationship, so it is advantageous to us both to work together as often as possible,” he continued. ‘’The HAF has seen how effective the Mirage 2000-5 Mk2 has been so far in service and is now planning to upgrade the earlier Mirage 2000 fleet. While this is in the planning stage, we don’t know when it will be confirmed.”
The 332nd AWS had previously flown the Mirage F1CG with the last example retired on June 30, 2003. The HAF signed a contract for 40 of the 2000s in 1985. The older 2000 EG (single-seat) and BG (two-seat) is exclusively used by the 332nd AWS and are the oldest still in service. A total of 34 EG and four BG aircraft began arriving in November 1989. The first pilots were highly experienced with many flight hours in Hellenic F1CGs and F-4E Phantoms. Both variants of the Mirage 2000 are powered by the Snecma M53-P2 turbofan, giving a maximum speed of Mach 2.2 at 50,000ft in full re-heat, with the engine producing 21,385lb thrust. Both types are still well suited to their roles, despite being fitted with the ageing French-designed Thomson-CSF (now Thales) Radar Doppler Multifunction (RDM), commonly known as the Cyrano V radar, developed from the Cyrano IV found in most variants of the Mirage F1. The 2000EG/BG still utilises a predominantly analogue cockpit but, with updates through the 1990s, has been brought a new level of capability. Hellenic Aerospace Industry (HAI), which has several maintenance hangars at Tanagra, completed a series of improvements, including the then new Thomson-CSF RDM 3 radar and the introduction of the Integrated Counter Measure Suite (ICMS) 1. The addition of the MBDA AM-39 Exocet anti-ship missile enabled it to have a formidable maritime strike capability.
At the turn of the century, 15 Mirage 2000-5 Mk2s (including five two-seaters) were ordered by the Greek Government, with ten existing EG types upgraded to the new standard. On June 30, 2003, Capt Leonidas Karanatsis became the first Hellenic pilot to fly the new type when he undertook an in-flight evaluation sortie, which lasted just over an hour. The first of this new fleet began arriving at Tanagra in September 2007. The last was received by the end of that year, when the Mirage 2000 production line was closed. Although losing the ability to operate the Exocet, the upgraded jets brought a new level of capability and elevated the HAF’s defence and strike roles. Enhancements to offensive systems included a data link for the targeting of MBDA Mica RF missiles, and the addition of the Thales Damocles forward-looking infra-red (FLIR) targeting pod. The modernised ‘glass cockpit’ features an instrument panel with five displays, three of which are colour. A central screen is predominately dedicated to the tactical situation. In between this and the head-up unit, another screen, collimated to infinity, shows the main sensor image (radar or laser designation pod). This layout enables a pilot to shift instantly from head-up flying to internal and external monitoring, essential for a multi-role combat aircraft.
The avionics were further updated with an optional TopSight helmet-mounted sight and display, and the addition of the modular data processing unit (MDPU) designed for the Dassault Rafale. A new Thales Totem 3000 inertial navigation system (INS) with ring laser gyroscope and GPS capability was added, providing much greater accuracy, higher reliability, and shorter alignment time than the older ULISS 52 navigation system which it replaced. Other upgrades included the addition of an onboard oxygen generation system (OBOGS) and a new ICMS 3 digital countermeasures suite. There is also a hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS), a great aid when executing airborne tasks. Probably the most important upgrade was the addition of the Thales RDY-2 multi-role, multi-function radar, which was a quantum leap in capability compared with the earlier RDM-3. The RDY-2 was a technological and technical evolution of the original RDY, which brought improved performance and provided significant increase in air-to-air, air-to-ground and air-to-sea function modes. In air-to-air mode, the RDY-2 can simultaneously detect up to 24 targets at all altitudes. It can track up to eight simultaneously and four priority targets automatically in both the vertical and horizontal planes. In air-to-surface mode, the RDY-2 is capable of accurately identifying fixed or mobile targets, and to designate them to the carried weapons.
Early last year Greece’s Supreme Air Force Council approved the proposal to upgrade the remaining single-seaters (the two BG two-seaters are approaching their fatigue life limits), which will bring them up to the 2000-5 Mk2 standard. Despite the relatively small size of the Mirage 2000 fleet it is a valuable asset to the Hellenic Air Force.
Tanagra is also home to a variety of retired HAF jets – some of which can be seen below