French Aircraft Mirage 2000D
Working in total interoperability with the United States, France retained its sovereignty over the use of its forces. The allied CAOC at Al Kharj in Saudi Arabia, operating under US command, allocated 6 sorties a day to the French planes. The CAOC planned the missions in line with France's rules of engagement, then submitted them for approval to the French commander-in-chief, who checked they complied with the French government's directives before the French planes were tasked.
The Mirage 2000Ds first took part in strike missions during operation Anaconda, which was designed to eradicate the Taliban, then later provided air support for ISAF troops and took part in a number of anti-terrorist operations.
Afghanistan was a particularly complex theatre of operations, with terrain elevations often higher than 4,000 metres making conventional C-SAR techniques impracticable, and extreme temperatures ranging from -20°C in February to +35° or even 40° in the summer months. In addition, the distance between the base and the targets made fuel management crucial: the Mirages were in the air for at least 51/2 hours and needed to be refuelled four times in flight. And rerouting opportunities in the event of a problem were few and far between.
Flight Lieutenant Onselaer, operational utilisation officer on Mirage 2000D, gave us a run-down on the aircraft systems and spoke about the lessons learned from this operation in Afghanistan. The French forces had two types of designation pods available, both from Thales.
They mainly used the PDLCT-S, which operates in IR mode and issuitable for both daytime and night time missions. But they also had the ATLIS system, which operates in TV mode and delivers images of excellent quality during daylight operations and was ideal for certain types of targets and mission profiles. The pods were of course used on strike missions, which is the main role of France's Mirage 2000Ds, but they also made an appreciable contribution to mission success during the critical refuelling phases.
The Afghanistan air campaign highlighted the progress that has been made in terms of datalink capabilities and the coherence of the image chain. For the optronic reconnaissance tasks that were secondary objectives on certain missions, the imagery sourced by the pod was digitised, interpreted using the MINDS multi-sensor image interpretation and dissemination system, and relayed to central command via the Syracuse satellite system. Chiefs of Staff could "order" images and receive the corresponding photographs just a few hours later.