Three years after taking delivery of the first batch of Mirage IIICJs, the Israeli Air Force asked Dassault to design a new version of the aircraft customised to meet the requirements of the IDFAF. Given the good weather conditions and high visibility of the Middle Eastern skies, plus the high degree of training of Israeli pilots, the IDFAF was willing to swap avionics for fuel and weaponry.
Studies carried out showed that elimination of the complex avionics suite of the Mirage IIIC could shave around l,000lb (450kg) off the weight of the Mirage, some $200,000 off the price, and cut down on the maintenance demands which the aircraft would make on the IDFAF's conscript ground crews. (Current figures claim only 13 maintenance manhours per flying hour for a basic Mirage 5 similar in build standard to the 5J).
In September 1966, Israel placed a $60 million order for 50 examples of what was then known as the Mirage 5J. Dassault started cutting metal, and flew the first example on May 19, 1967. Within days of the flight, the Middle East was on the brink of an Arab/Israeli war. On June 3, President de Gaulle ordered an embargo on all supplies of military equipment to Israel. This policy, apparently intended to deter Israel from carrying out a pre-emptive strike against her neighbours, may well have been the final factor which persuaded the Israeli cabinet to unleash the IDFAF. On the morning of June 5, the Mirage IIICJ fleet spearheaded the Israeli air attacks which opened the Six-Day War.
In the months which followed, the first Mirage 5Js rolled off the line at the Dassault Breguet works at Merignac, and by the end of the year eight were ready for delivery. Victims of de Gaulle's embargo, they remained in France.
In April of the following year, Israel paid the final instalment of $20 million for the complete batch, and even took out an option on 50 of the even newer Mirage Fl swept-wing fighters. By this time almost half the Mirage 5s were ready. By November, 40 had been completed, and an embarrassed Dassault had billed the Israeli Government for $200,000 to cover maintenance work on the impounded aircraft. Declining to pay, the Israeli Government politely suggested that the bill be forwarded to the Elysee Palace.
Offered a refund of its $60 million payment in September 1969, Israel declined, and put into motion plans to "kidnap" the Mirage 5s and other hardware being built in France. Israeli pilots had been stationed in France to test-fly the embargoed warplanes, and to maintain a programme of familiarisation training on the type. As winter approached, the Israelis asked if this training programme could be transferred to airfields in Corsica, where the winter weather would be more favourable to flying. This move was duly approved by the French Defence Ministry, so the Israelis next asked for the supply of external tanks, which would have greatly extended the range of the aircraft.
The move to Corsica was scheduled for December 25 but, 24 hours before it could take place, a suspicious French Government cancelled the move, ordering the aircraft to be partly dismantled and placed in storage. Part of the secret Israeli plan went ahead on December 25, when five gunboats built for the Israeli Navy "escaped" from France, arriving in Tel Aviv on December 31. The IDFAF was never to see its 50 Mirage 5Js, but accepted a refund of its money. The aircraft were reworked to a modified build standard in 1972/3 and taken into French Air Force service as the Mirage 5F. Some 30 still serve with two squadrons.
Like the Mirage III, the Mirage 5 has "spawned" a family of variants. The basic Mirage 5 is a single-seat ground attack fighter, and this is supplemented by the 5D two-seat trainer and 5R reconnaissance version. Despite the adverse publicity generated by the Israeli deal and subsequent embargo, the type has sold well.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the aircraft seemed perpetually at the centre of some controversy. Peruvian interest in February 1967 sparked off a political furore at the prospect of supersonic war-planes entering service with a Latin American air arm. The order for 14 Mirage 5s announced in April 1968 sparked off a chain of orders from the region.
The largest single order for the type - and probably the most controversial-was that placed by Libya in the winter of 1969/70. An air arm short of trained pilots and ground crew was prepared to spend more than $400 million on a fleet of 110 Mirage 5s. In practice, only 60 were supplied. In the spring of 1973, the Israeli Air Force announced that at least one squadron had been supplied to Egypt, and the type was encountered in combat by Israeli aircraft during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The only sale to a NATO nation came in 1968, when Belgium finally adopted the type as a replacement for aging F-84F Thunderstreaks, placing an order for 106 aircraft-a mixture of single-seat Mirage 5BA, two-seat 5BD and single-seat 5BR recce aircraft to be built under licence by SABCA (Societe Anonyme Beige de Constructions Aeronautiques) at Charleroi. The wisdom of adopting an aircraft with such simplified avionics for service in the often-foul weather of Western Europe seems questionable, but the Mirage had the dual advantage of bringing work to the local aerospace industry and of being affordable. Even at today's inflated prices, the likely unit cost of a Mirage 5 is around $10 million-half the cost of an F-16. Unless an air arm is prepared to buy from the Soviet Union or is on friendly terms with Israel Aircraft Industries, the Mirage 5 is probably the cheapest Mach 2 fighter available.
The Mirage 5B currently serves with Numbers 2 and 3 Wings of the Belgian Air Force, attrition having reduced the operational aircraft to around 60. In the early 1980s Dassault Breguet offered to refurbish and rework the remaining aircraft, stretching out their service life, and to supply between 12 and 40 new-build air craft to maintain front-line strength. Financially, the latter deal was undoubtedly attractive, involving 100 per cent offset of the refurbishment work plus 80 per cent on the new aircraft, but the new Mirages would have had to be ordered for delivery in 1985-a timescale which could not be fitted into Belgian financial planning. The Mirages will be phased out in the late 1980s and replaced by a wing of F-16s.
Following the installation of the improved Atar 9K-50 in Mirage Ills for South Africa, the application of this engine to other export models was an obvious move. The result was the Mirage 50, which was launched at the 1975 Paris Air Show. First flight of a Mirage 50 prototype took place on 15 April 1979.
The original intention was just to "hot up" the Mirage 5, but the 50 is now offered in two versions based on the Mirage III and 5 respectively. The 5/50 is similar in fuselage design to the Mirage 5, having the slim nose section and extra fuel tank. A modified nose available as an option allows the Thomson-CSF Agave nose radar from the Super Etendard to be carried.
The Mirage 3/50 is essentially a hybrid aircraft, offering the engine and much of the avionics of the Mirage Fl in a Mirage III airframe. It retains the nose and avionics bay of the Mirage III, plus modified intakes able to handle the airflow of the new engine, but may be considered a member of the Mirage III family rather than a true part of the Mirage 5 and 50 series.
Sole customer announced to date for the Mirage 50 has been Chile, which operates 16 aircraft - a mixture of Mirage 50C single-seaters and Mirage 50DC two-seat trainers. Launching of the more advanced Mirage IIING seems a tacit admission by Dassault-Breguet that the Mirage 50 must be considered a failure.
Production of the Mirage 5 is now tailing off as the number of new orders dwindles-recent customers have tended to favour the Mirage Fl. Only six were ordered in 1982, a year which saw some 30 aircraft leave the line. Production is currently running at between one and two aircraft per month.
The Mirage 5 differs little from the basic Mirage III design, so readers should refer to the latter entry for full details. The main change in the Mirage 5 was the substitution of a long, slim nose section for the standard pattern, plus the provision of extra hardpoints for ordnance on some aircraft.
The basic aircraft has an additional internal fuel tank located just behind the cockpit in the space used by the avionics equipment bay in the Mirage III. This holds an extra 110 gallons (500 litres) of internal fuel, raising the internal fuel capacity by 15 per cent to a total of 843 gallons (3,830 litres). Fuel load can be traded off for extra avionics should the customer so desire.
Installation of the more powerful Atar 9K-50 engine in the Mirage 50 posed few structural problems. Diameter, length and attachment points are unchanged, although the slightly increased weight of the new engine gives slightly different centre.
For the Mirage 5, Dassault retained the proven SNECMA Atar 9C engine used in the Mirage HIE, making this the most common powerplant of the Mirage delta series. It was built under licence by Fabri-que Nationale, Belgium, for installation in that nation's licence-built aircraft.
The Atar 9K-50 used in the Mirage 50 is the powerplant originally developed for the Mirage Fl, and offers an additional l,625lb (737kg) of dry thrust, and an increase of 2,130lb (966kg) in full afterburner. The new engine is some 360lb (160kg) heavier than the Atar 9C, but offers improved specific fuel consumption and longer engine life. Being based on the earlier engine, it is compatible with the existing equipment-drive gearbox.
The space formerly occupied by the main avionics bay having been usurped by a fuel tank, the Mirage 5 must carry its "black boxes" in the new slim-profile nose. Instead of an air-interception radar (as on the Mirage III), the nose of the Mirage 5 houses equipment such as a laser rangefinder and Aida II ranging radar.
The precise avionics fit has always been a matter for the customer to decide. In early Mirage 5s, the entire nose volume was required by the avionics units which made up the aircraft's limited fit. In recent years, the ever-increasing miniaturisation of electronics has allowed Dassault to pack systems of greater complexity into the same space. Installation of inertial-navigation systems, nav/attack computers and multi-purpose radars is now possible. The most complex avionics fit specified for a Mirage 5 is probably that carried by Egypt's Mirage 5.E2. The nav/attack system on these aircraft includes an iner-tial platform, HUD, and laser rangefinder, all linked by a Digibus alphanumeric multiplex link system.
Most Mirage 5 operators face relatively unsophisticated opposition, so few currently require a comprehensive ECM system. But Belgian Air Force Mirage 5R and 5BA fighters would have to cope with Soviet radar and electronic-warfare expertise in any Central Front war, so are equipped with the Rapport II (Rapid Alert Programmed Power Management of Radar Target) internally-mounted ECM system. This was developed for the Belgian Air Force following a study of Mirage 5 survivability carried out in the light of Israeli experience during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Requests for proposals for an internal ECM installation were circulated to US and European electronics companies early in 1974. Three companies were contracted to carry out feasibility studies, a team consisting of Loral and MBLE being chosen to develop prototype equipment. Flight tested in 1977, this entered production a year later as the Rapport II. It is compatible with the more modern Rapport III equipment now being installed on Belgian F-16s.
Avionics fit of the Mirage 5/50 is similar to that of the Mirage 5, but it is possible to fit the Thomson-CSF Agave radar if the customer so wishes. Air arms requiring an air-defence/air-superiority fighter would find the Mirage 3/50 a better choice, since the latter can carry the Cyrano IV radar from the Mirage Fl. Details of these sets may be found in the entries for the Super Etendard and Mirage Fl, respectively.
The Mirage 5 retains the two 30mm DEFA 552A cannon of the Mirage III, but can carry up to 8,800lb (4,000kg) of stores on five hardpoints. Some aircraft have two additional attachment points under the fuselage. Typical stores include l,000lb (450kg) bombs, JL-100 rocket pods each with 18 68mm unguided rockets, napalm tanks, and AS.30 air-to-surface missiles.
Not surprisingly in view of its Mirage III ancestry, the Mirage 5 is broadly similar in performance to the earlier aircraft. Combat radius with a 2,000lb (900kg) weapon load is 700nm (1,300km) in hi-lo-hi profile, and 350nm (650km) lo-lo-lo.
Installation of the Atar 9k in the Mirage 50 has a significant effect on performance. Climb rate is increased by 80 per cent at sea level, while the time to climb to a Mach 1.8 interception at 39,000ft (12,000m) is halved to only 2.5 minutes. Service ceiling at Mach 2 is increased by 6,500ft (2,000m) to 60,700ft (18,500m). Range is increased by 75nm (140km), while the take-off run is reduced by between 15 and 20 per cent compared with the Mirage III and 5.
Customers entering the Mach 2 market might be forgiven for preferring the swept-wing Mirage Fl, but it seems strange that users of the existing deltas have not topped up their fleets with the Mirage 50. To date, only South Africa has done so, although its aircraft were delivered before the Mirage 50 designation was coined.
Belgium (78), Chile (16 Mirage 50), Colombia (18), Egypt (66), France (38), Gabon (7), Libya (108), Pakistan (62), Peru (32), United Arab Emirates (24), Venezuela (6), Zaire (7).