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In 2011, India entered into a significant defense deal with the French company Thales to upgrade its fleet of Mirage 2000-H standard aircraft to the more advanced 2000-5 standard. This $2.1-$2.2 billion upgrade package aimed to modernize 51 aircraft, with two being upgraded at the Thales facility in France and the remaining at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) facility in India. However, the deal has faced substantial criticism over its high cost and perceived limitations in enhancing the aircraft’s capabilities.

The Mirage 2000 upgrade deal, while intended to extend the operational life and improve the combat effectiveness of the aircraft, has been scrutinized for several reasons. Each upgrade reportedly cost as much as the original price of a new Mirage 2000 aircraft when they were procured in the mid-1980s. Critics argue that the financial outlay did not translate into a commensurate increase in firepower or capabilities.

One of the major points of contention is the absence of an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar in the upgrade. AESA radars are considered state-of-the-art, providing superior tracking, targeting, and resistance to jamming. The omission of this technology is seen as a significant drawback. French were not so keen on selling their RBE2 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that was developed for the Rafale fighter jets even though it was successfully tested in 2009.

The upgrade package did not include new engines for the Mirage 2000. Upgrading the aircraft with M53-P2 could have improved the aircraft’s performance, range, and payload capacity, but this opportunity was missed.

The radar system upgrade did not come with open source code, which has strategic implications. Without access to the source code, Indian engineers cannot integrate indigenous weapon systems such as the Astra MkI and MkII air-to-air missiles. This dependency limits India’s ability to locally upgrade and customize the aircraft’s weaponry to meet evolving needs.

While the upgrade did bring certain benefits, such as improved avionics, navigation systems, and weapons management systems, the lack of AESA radar, new engines, and open source radar code has raised questions about the value derived from the expenditure.

Without AESA radar and new engines, the upgraded Mirage 2000-5 aircraft may still lag behind contemporary fighter jets in terms of sensor capabilities and overall performance. The inability to locally upgrade and integrate indigenous missile systems restricts India’s strategic autonomy. Reliance on foreign technology and support for critical upgrades can be a vulnerability in times of geopolitical tension.

Given the high cost of the upgrades, some defense analysts suggest that the funds could have been better spent on acquiring new aircraft with more advanced technology and greater long-term potential. The 2011 deal to upgrade India’s Mirage 2000 fleet to the 2000-5 standard has been a subject of debate and criticism. While the intention was to modernize and extend the service life of these aircraft, the high cost and limited enhancements in radar technology, engine performance, and integration capability have led many to question the overall efficacy and value of the upgrade.