With the integration of the Mirage 2000 in the operational area of the Aegean in 1988 and continuing the Legend of the Mirage F1, another revolution awakened for the air defense forces of the Hellenic Air Force. Designed exclusively for the mission of quick reaction and interception of targets to entire range of altitudes and speeds with unique flight characteristics that give it the advantage in aerial engagements, was , and still remains an essential restraint factor against any potential bogey.
The history of Mirage 2000 in the Hellenic air force has its origins in the late 1970s when the Supreme Council of National Defense reccomended the purchase of 120 new fighters to replace the F 84F and the F 104G and F 5A as they could no longer face the challenges of the modern air war. In the 70-80s the violations of Hellenic air space by the Turkish jets were frequent, and this led the HAF to the procurement of new modern fighters, the Mirage 2000 and the F 16C/D, with the aim to interrupt the Turkish provocations.
In 1981 the General Staff completed the process of tendering RFPs (Request for Proposal) with the final offers submitted by the manufacturers in July 1983. On August 1984 the Government Council for Foreing Affairs and Defense decided to purchase 40 Mirage 2000 jets and the agreement was signed on July 1985
The first Mirage 2000 landed in Tanagra air base, home of 114 Pterix Mahis (Combat Wing) on 27 April 1988. The Wing is composed by two squadrons, 331 Mira and 332 Mira, both equiped with Mirage 2000-5 and both performing air defense missions such as TASMO missions.
The 332 Mira (Squadron) was estabilished on 11 August 1989 and received its first aircraft on 1 November of the same year. After a period of intense training activity both flying and technical personnel, was evaluated in November 1990 with great success by the Tactical Air Command and was declared operational on the primary role assigned to it, the All weather Interception.
Boasting one of the most modern fighter aircraft undertook a very large part of the operational missions of air defense and for the defense of the Country’s integrity in the Aegean, performing interceptions missions from the bases of Tanagra, Skyros and Heraklion. In 1995 the Group received the Super 530D air to air weapon acquiring beyond visual range (BVD) air combat capabilities while, by incorporating the most modern system of self protection, the ICMS (Integrated Counter Measures System), the Mirage 2000 emerged as one of the most complete fighter aircraft.
In March 2007 the Squadron received the AM-39 Exocet Air-Surface missile enabling the assignment of TASMO (Tactical Air Support for Maritime Operations) missions. These weapons were successfully fired on the range of Crete in May and November 2012.
In the early 1990s the Hellenic Air Force estabilished a powerful arsenal comprising the most capable single-engine fighters of the western world, the Mirage 2000EG and the F 16C. This created the conditions for the development of a furious antagonism between the newly estabilished Mirage 2000 Squadrons, 331 and 332, and the F 16 Squadrons, 330 and 346.
From the race to emerge the best that peaked from the air combat exercise “Hawk” the performance of the pilots improved dramatically and gave the chance to fully explore the advantages of the new aircraft. These have had a significant impact on the engagements over the Aegean against the Turkish Air Force that lacked the ability to train with two third-generation aircraft types.
As Col.K. Chalatsis, commander of 332Mira explains, “the F 16 Block 30 and 52+ has a more powerful engine if compared with the Mirage 2000-5, but climbing to high altitudes, the F 16 looses more energy, so in high level flight the Mirage is more performing, and thanks to the Delta wing, we can turn tighter, so we can put ourself in a better condition for firing”. The commander continues, “the Mirage 2000-5 is very easy in terms of mainteinace, that’s why our fleet is always efficient, and in case of scramble we can take off in less then 5 minutes since the allarm, and the combination of a reliable and capable figher jet make us a big deterrent for our neightbours”.
The Mirage 2000 presents remarkable quick reaction capabilities in the air interception role, maneuvering performance that can be barely encountered from another type of fighter and a self protection system that enables the initiative advantage as it is capable to inert the rival detection systems giving the Mirage 2000-5 the benefit to take action first. With its unique ability to turn the nose in the required direction instantly (nose authority) and manage to achieve weapons release that cannot be escaped by the enemy it is the dominant of the aerial combat chessboard over the waters of the archipelago.
The 332 Mira pilots employ the unique maneuvering performance of the Mirage 2000 bringing the reputation of the most proficient fighters in close combat. One of the virtues of the Mirage 2000 is the capability to take off in a very short time from the moment when the order for immediate take-off is given, making it perfect for the interception role. For the self protection and dogfight, continues Col. K Chalatsis, we use the R-550 Magic II air-to-air missile.
The sole units in the Polemiki Aeroporia (Hellenic Air Force) capable of releasing specialized missiles against surface targets are the 331 and 332 Mira with the employment of the AM-39 Exocet Block 2. It is the only naval attack airborne weapon that has proven its capability to sink major surface units. Specifically during the Falklands conflict the Etendard aircraft sunk not only vessels of the size of Frigates but also high value ships such as the cargo Atlantic Conveyor.
In the Hellenic Air Force doctrine 332 squadrons jets toting Exocet missiles lead naval strike missions (TASMO ans ASuW). Always part of COMAO (COMposite Air Operations), a typical TASMO mission includes further than the escort and force protection aircraft, jets that carry general use weapons such as laser bombs, AGM- 65 missiles and conventional free fall bombs.
The Mirage 2000s are entrusted with the crucial role of deactivation of the enemy battle units or air defense units including frigates and destroyers, firing AM-39 missiles so that high value units such as landing crafts and supply ships can be safety attacked. Missiles can be fired from such distances that totally prohibit the interception of the attacking Mirage 2000s by the air defense systems of the ships, giving the AM-39 stand-off value.
Beyond this and because of the full guidance of autonomous (fire and forget) releases the aircraft carrier to leave after unleashing that the function of merely letting the projectile suitable distance away from the target and with the appropriate parameters. In the first phase of the attack, the mission Commander analyses the Surface picture and detects the target with the element Mirage 2000s. With the missile still on the pylon the command computer of the Exocet transmits data for the target and the pilot arms the weapon. After the lunch, the AM-39 follows a downward path and is initially inertial guided towards the target.
The low flight level combined with high subsonic speed (0.9 mach) rejects early detection by the self-defenses of the ship. At a certain distance from the target the missile’s radar is activated for the terminal guidance. In the final phase of the attack the Exocet manuvers to avoid possible fire from the ship and impacts detonating its highly explosive 165 kilograms warhead.
As Col. K. Chalatsis explains, “the Exocet missiles allows us to remain outside the envelope of the anti-aircraft weapons, and coupled with the unique characteristics of the Mirage 2000-5 and the top performing self protection system ICMS, we rappresent the top weapon in the Aegean.” The complexity of a TASMO mission is rappresnted even by the need of accurate informations by the reconaissance aircraft, for knowing exactely the position of the target and the situation around it, due to the fundamental need to avoid to shooting civilian ships or allied ships, and by the intelligence, for knowing what are the radar capabilities and self protection capabilities of the enemy ship.
Greece is a Country with difficult relationships with its neightbour, the Turkey. Due to this, the Hellenic Governments adopted the strategy of deterrence, mainteining a strong and capable air force such as strong armed forces. The mere presence of the Mirage 2000-5 over the Aegean Sea employing the Aerospatiale missiles is a sufficient condition to prevent the advance of the rival fleet in the archipelago.
Article and images: Andrea Avian