Pakistan operates a fleet of approximately 157 aging Dassault Mirage III/5 aircraft.
The Dassault Mirage III/V have long since been retired by the majority of their operators, the Pakistani Air Force remains the only operator of the Mirage III and the only major operator of the Mirage 5 – fighters the country’s military has gone to great lengths to modernise and upgrade to keep them viable for modern warfare.
Pakistan’s Mirage fleet was purchased from France in the 1960s and 1970s. The Mirage III served as the French Air Force’s primary combat jet during the mid Cold War War and was exported widely to a number of Western clients across the world. The fighter was a much cheaper alternative to the elite U.S. F-4 Phantom, and though it lacked the cutting edge capabilities of the lighter and more versatile U.S. F-5 Freedom Fighter it still proved a popular export to a number of states.
The Mirage III proved to be a formidable weapon in the hands of the Pakistani Air Force. Pakistan’s Air Force would use the Mirage III highly effectively during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War while suffering no losses. During the conflict, while flying out from bases in Sargodha and Mianwali, the Mirage III was extensively used to conduct ground attacks against Indian military units and targets of interest.
Shortly after its induction, the Mirage III was developed into the Mirage 5 – an attack jet based on the same airframe. The modification was extremely simple, involving only the replacement of avionics located behind the cockpit with additional fuel to enhance the platform’s range and reduce its cost – but limiting its air to air combat capabilities.
While the Pakistani Air Force has since inducted far more capable combat aircraft including the J-7, an advanced Chinese variant of the MiG-21, the U.S. F-16 Falcon, acquired in the late 1970s, and the indigenous JF-17 Thunder produced jointly with China, the service has still sought to keep its Mirage fighters operational as a highly cost effective means of retaining a large air fleet. To prevent these fighters from falling into complete obsolescence, the military undertook an extensive upgrade program – known as Project ROSE.
Under the refurbishment program, Pakistan’s Mirage fleet was upgraded with third and fourth generation technologies allowing them to remain viable in modern warfare. The program was initiated in 1995, and involved all new weapons, avionics and electronics systems for the ageing fighters.
The program extended the lives of the fighters substantially, and included addition of a heads up display, hands on throttle and stick controls, a new multi function displays and radar altimeter and a Sagem attack system. The combat aircraft were also equipped with an inertial navigation system, a GPS system, a new radar warning receiver and a modern electronic countermeasures suite.
A Grifo M3 multi mode radar system, which allowed the fighters to engage their adversaries at beyond visual range, was also installed which revolutionised their situational awareness. A basic countermeasure dispensing system, relying on decoy flares and chaff to confuse enemy missiles and radar, was also added. Some fighters were also equipped with in flight refuelling probes of South African origin to allow them to undertake offensive operations more effectively.
Ultimately while paling in comparison to the JF-17 and F-16C, and struggling to contend with even the J-7, Pakistan’s modernised Mirage fighters are nevertheless a formidable asset which enlarge the country’s fleet considerably. The country’s Mirage fighters are set to remain in service well into the 2020s, though they will likely be replaced by more capable domestically manufactured JF-17 fighters in the coming years.