The Taiwanese Air Force announced that it would ground its fleet of Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets on March 14. The announcement came after a unit of the said aircraft crashed off the southeastern coast of the island during a routine training session. This is the second time a combat aircraft was lost in a span of three months, showing its accident-prone fleet. Though fortunately, the pilot operating the aircraft was rescued this time around.

According to Taiwan’s Air Force Command Headquarters, the French-built aircraft took off from Chihhang Air Base just after 10 AM. However, at 11:30 AM, the command center received an alert that the pilot ejected from the aircraft roughly 10 nautical miles south of the base.

Taiwan Air Force Chief Inspector Major General Liu Hui-chien reported that the aircraft’s sole pilot, Lt. Col. Huang Chung-kai, ejected from the aircraft after he noticed a lack of power. The Mirage 2000-5’s engine was reportedly not generating enough power to fly the aircraft safely, thus prompting the pilot to eject.

A Taiwanese Mirage 2000 fighter jet, serial number 2017, the aircraft that had crashed (CNA). Source:
A Taiwanese Mirage 2000 fighter jet, serial number 2017, the aircraft that had crashed (CNA)

A UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter was dispatched to the scene and successfully rescued the pilot. According to the Taiwanese Air Force, he was reportedly in good condition and is currently in the hospital for further observation as a precaution for possible infections brought by inhaling seawater.

Liu praised the pilot for his call to eject from the aircraft, which was done after some preparation at around 2,000 feet below the recommended altitude. The maneuver spared Huang from suffering major injuries, according to Liu. The exact cause of the problem is still to be determined until the investigations can be conducted on the jet’s wreckage. All units of the Mirage 2000-5 have been grounded for safety inspections until they are cleared for operations.

Liu mentioned that the Air Force would utilize Taiwan-made Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF) and US-built F-16s to temporarily carry the workload of the grounded fleet’s duties, mainly to respond to incursions by the Chinese military aircraft in Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zones.

Mirage 2000-5 And Its Capabilities

The Mirage 2000-5 is a variant of the multirole combat fighter Mirage 2000 that was built by the French manufacturer Dassault Aviation. The original model was developed late in the 1970s to replace the French Air Force’s Mirage III. It had its first flight in 1978, and its defense variant was put into operational service by the French Air Force in 1984.

During the late 1980s, the Mirage 2000 was beginning to age compared to the new models of the F-16 fighter. Plans to upgrade the aircraft were announced by Dassault in 1989, which was later named to be the Mirage 2000-5.

The Mirage 2000 has a single-seater and twin-seater variation. The aircraft has a combat weight of 21,000 lbs. and maximum take-off weight of 38,500 lbs. Its body is 47 feet long and has a wingspan of 29.9 feet.

Improvements to the 2000-5 saw the incorporation of the Thales VEH 3020 head-up display, a five cathode ray tube multifunction advanced pilot systems interface display, and the Thomson-CSF RDY multifunction radar.

Cockpit Dassault Mirage 2000 (Alexandre Prévot from Nancy, FranceCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The aircraft is powered by the SNECMA M53-P2 single-shaft engine, which is rated to produce 65kN thrust and 98kN in afterburn. This allows the aircraft to reach Mach 2.2+, a maximum climb speed of 60,000 ft. per minute, and can effectively operate at 60,000 ft. as well.

The Mirage 2000 has nine store stations for carrying weapon system payloads; two on each wing and five on the fuselage. The aircraft’s single-seat version is equipped with two internally mounted 30mm guns. With its radar upgrades, the Mirage 2000-5 is capable of handling air-to-air, air-to-ground, and air-to-sea operations.

There are over 500 operational units worldwide. Some have been exported to several countries, namely Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Greece, Peru, India, Qatar, and of course, Taiwan. Taiwan purchased 60 Mirage 2000-5 fighters in 1992 and signed a technical support service contract with Dassault Aviation last year to help maintain the aging fleet.

After yesterday’s incident, Taiwan has 54 units of the Mirage 2000-5s left.

Possibly Chinese Tactics

These past few months, the Taiwanese Air Force scrambled to match regular incursions by the Chinese, sending a record number of aircraft into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Earlier in 2022, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) sent 39 aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ, including 24 J-16 fighters, ten J-10 fighters, and one H-6 bomber. 

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Analysts infer that the incursions might be an attempt to purposefully wither down Taiwan’s air capabilities through constant usage and shortened maintenance periods.

“Due to PLAAF increasing activities in Taiwan’s southwest, the Mirage aircraft originally based in Hsinchu were transferred to Taitung for training and tasks execution,” said acting deputy chief executive officer at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research, Shen Ming-Shih.

“As the investigation into the crash is being conducted, it cannot be ruled out that personnel and machine failure was due to heavy flight demands,” he added.

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