New Delhi: There was no media fanfare of the kind surrounding the Rafale jets, but the excitement among Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retd) and his IAF colleagues was just as high in June 1985 as they flew into India aboard the Mirage 2000.
The Mirage 2000 fighter jets, also made by Rafale manufacture Dassault Aviation, remain among the IAF fleet’s most versatile members to date. Thirty-five years ago, Air Marshal Chopra (Retd) was among the IAF fighter pilots who brought the first batch of the jets — seven in number — to their base in Gwalior.
Speaking to ThePrint Wednesday, when the first batch of Rafale jets touched down at the Ambala air base, Chopra recalled that the Mirage 2000 came into India amid a very different atmosphere.
“There was hardly any media then. Today the excitement is at least 200 times because it is also a media welcome. Most people were not even aware of the Mirages, which were a very new aircraft,” he said.
Chopra and his fellow fighter pilots spent six months in France, training, before they flew back the planes.
“There was a lot of excitement in homecoming, to be flying the aircraft back to the country after six months, but it was a quiet affair with few dignitaries and the traditional water cannon salute,” he said.
Among the dignitaries who attended the event was the late Madhavrao Scindia, who represented the Guna Lok Sabha seat (part of the Gwalior division), added Chopra, saying some other senior IAF officers came to the base over the subsequent few days.
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A long journey
The Mirage 2000 took its first flight in 1978 and was inducted into the French Air Force in 1984. In 1982, India placed an order of 36 single-seater and four twin-seater Mirage 2000 jets, with another 10 ordered in 2004.
In 2011, a contract was signed to upgrade the existing Mirage 2000 jets to Mirage 2000-5 Mk to keep them in service until 2030.
Over the past three decades, the Mirages have played a critical role in multiple major operations, including the Kargil conflict and the 2019 Balakot air strikes.
While the Rafales have taken just over two days to reach India, with a display of mid-air refuelling enroute and a stopover at the Al Dhafra air base in the UAE, it was a much longer journey home for the Mirages.
In the absence of mid-air refuelling, the Mirages made four stops on the way, Chopra said.
“Also, there were time zone changes, so we were losing a few hours of the day. We halted at four places — Athens, Cairo, Doha and the Jamnagar air base in Gujarat — before reaching the Gwalior air base,” he added.
However, he said, the tailwinds did provide some advantage in terms of saving of time and fuel. Flying a single-engine aircraft over the entire Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Sea was a daunting task, he added.
“There were seven Mirages and we flew them back in two formations,” he said, adding that he was flying in the first formation.
While the Rafales are expected to be operationally integrated in the quickest time possible on account of the security situation at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, it wasn’t the same for the Mirages.
“It took a few months as the weapons were yet to come,” said Chopra. “Unlike the Rafales, it was a new aircraft. So, while the pilots and the aircraft were ready, the weapons were still to arrive.”
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