Since entering service in 1973, the Dassault Mirage F1 has never become a highly prominent fighter, although its career has been quite diverse. Replaced as the main interceptor in the Armée de l’air by the Mirage 2000 in 1984, the F1 nevertheless had more units produced and more operators than its successor.
More than 53 years after the first flight, the Mirage F1 is in greater demand by the U.S. Air Force, but in a completely different context, that of an aggressor aircraft, used by companies hired by the country’s armed forces to conduct combat training.
Outsourcing these services has gained momentum in recent years with the availability of fighters and training aircraft used in the market, but generally the most popular aircraft were the Israeli Kfir (derived from the Mirage III project) and the L-39 Albatros trainer aircraft.
However, one of these companies, Draken International, decided to acquire 20 units of the Mirage F1M that operated in the Spanish Air Force and today train USAF fighter pilots at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
This week, two other US air bases will feature Dassault’s supersonic fighter, Luke (Arizona) and Holloman (New Mexico), because another company, ATAC (Airborne Tactical Advantage Company), which belongs to Raytheon, was selected for the CAS (Contracted Air Support) program and will offer aggressor air training to the F-16 and F-35 fighter squadrons.
The exercises are expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2020 and will feature part of the 63 Mirage F1 fighters that ATAC acquired from the French Air Force. According to the company, ten of these jets are already certified by the FAA – they fly with civilian registration.
Although they have not received any structural changes, the Mirage F1 fighters have undergone a slight upgrade in systems and avionics and ATAC plans to replace French Thomson-CSF Cyrano IV radars in the future.
The good acceptance of the Mirage F1 as an aggressor aircraft involves its low operating cost and performance. The fighter is capable of reaching Mach 2.2 and flying at an altitude of up to 20,000 meters. Interestingly, it is a rare Dassault fighter jet that does not have delta wings, a solution embraced by the company’s founder, Marcel Dassault.
With good payload capacity, the F1 was also used in attack and reconnaissance missions. Today, however, the fighter is only operational in three countries – Morocco, Gabon and Iran, which were captured from Iraqis in the Gulf War.