Glossy Broshure vs. Reality
The Mirage 2000, like it´s competitors, is often featured in
glossy full colour pamphlets with a vast array of weapons on display before it. The casual observer could be forgiven for believing that the plane actually carries all that stuff regularly.
The Mirage 2000, the F16 and the Gripen are
optimised for the air defence role, with ground attack a secondary role. The air defence role places certain constraints on the designer as regards airframe size and shape. A recipe for success, according to Willy Messerschmidt, is to
“wrap the smallest aircraft possible around the largest engine you can find”. In practice this means that air combat optimised fighters have a fuel fraction of approximately 0.3. The 2000C and F16A did indeed start their careers with
optimal fuel fractions.
Armed with two heat seeking AAMs the Mirage, F16, F18 and Gripen have an almost usefull range -almost. This is why the Mirage is almost never seen without a centre-line or wing mounted fuel tank. The F16C was
regularly seen in action over Iraq armed with two AIM 9L missiles and two Mk 82 GP bombs and two wing tanks -hardly an inspiring load. The Mirage 2000 fares no better. French AdlA planes in action over Bosnia carried much the same fit: two
Magic II missiles, two Mk 82GPs and two 2000 litre tanks. Consider for a moment that Dassault quote a maximum load of 6500 kg and Lockheed Martin quote an astonishing figure of 9276 kg for the F16C.
So what happened? Both planes are
fighters - and not bombers. The need for usable range means invariably that two external wing tanks are carried.
The Mirage 2000, when loaded with two external tanks and two AAMs , has a further five hardpoints that can carry
air-to-ground weapons: the centreline station (1800 kg) and the four fuselage stations each capable of carrying 400 kg for a total of 3400 kg. The F16C can usually only carry air-to-ground stores on stations 3 and 7 for a total of 3174 kg.
At first glance this might imply that it is less flexible than the Mirage 2000 but this isn´t so -the F16 can carry two “heavy” (greater than 1000 kg) stores and two tanks. The Mirage is limited to one heavy store on the centreline
station, although it could then still carry six AAMs, the F16 is limited to four. The Mirage 2000 does have an advantage when the carriage of smaller bombs is required.
Given that in current, and probably also future, campaigns the
need to avoid civilian casualties is of the utmost importance, the ability to carry heavy stores is perhaps not as important is it once was perceived to be.