Dassault Mirage F1
The Dassault Mirage F1 is a single-engine French multirole fighter introduced to French Air Force service in 1973 and produced until 1990. Its Snecma Atar 09K50 engine can provide up to 15,870 lbf. (7,200 kgf) of afterburning thrust at sea level.
In 1963, the French Air Force developed a requirement for an all-weather, low-altitude fighter aircraft capable of both supersonic flight and operation from austere airfields. The austere capability made it necessary to develop an aircraft capable of final approach at no more than 140 kt (260 km/h). In November 1963 Dassault signed a contract to build such an aircraft, initially dubbed the Mirage III F, around the Pratt & Whitney/Snecma TF 106 engine. The Mirage III F was a high-mounted, swept-wing design that in 1965 spawned the two-seater Mirage F2, the first flight prototype derived from the concept. It first flew in June 1966, and drew some interest from Israel, though no agreement was ever signed.
When France withdrew from NATO’s integrated command structure in 1966, French Air Force priorities shifted. A pure interceptor was now considered critical, and accordingly the F2 was revised as the Mirage F3, a single-seat aircraft with one Pratt & Whitney/Snecma TF 306 engine. Requirements shifted again, however, when it was decided that the F3 was too expensive, too dependent on American industry because of its engine, and a variable geometry twin-engine aircraft was preferable to the F3 design. Cancellation of the F2 and F3 programs followed shortly thereafter, in late 1967.
At the time there was therefore no aircraft under development that could replace the aging Mirage III and satisfy the latest interceptor requirement. The variable geometry Mirage G program then under development was considered high risk, so a downscaled F3 dubbed the Mirage F1 was designed to fill this gap. As it turned out, the Mirage G program would not survive, and when it ultimately failed in 1968 the F1 was ready to take its place.
On Dec. 23, 1966, the Mirage F1 prototype made its first flight with a Snecma (now Safran) Atar 09K31 turbojet engine. On its 4th test flight in January 1967, the prototype reached Mach 2 for the first time. Unfortunately, in May 1967 the prototype broke apart in flight due to flutter, killing Dassault chief test pilot René Bigand. Nevertheless, the French Air Force awarded a contract for three preproduction aircraft shortly thereafter. These aircraft were to be powered by the Atar 09K50 engine. In 1969, the Air Force also placed its first order for production F1C aircraft.
Prototype 04, the final preproduction Mirage F1, first flew on June 17, 1970. It was equipped with the full suite of electronics slated for inclusion on series production aircraft, and its first flight marked the beginning of the final phase in the Mirage F1 test program. Operational evaluation of production aircraft began with the Feb. 15, 1973, first flight of the first production standard F1 prototype. The production models differed aerodynamically from the prototypes with the incorporation of slotted leading-edge flaps and ventral fins, though the ventral fins were present on prototypes 03 and 04.
The Mirage F1 is built mostly out of aluminum and extensively employs honeycomb sandwich construction. It is a relatively lightweight aircraft for its class, with a maximum takeoff weight of 35,714 lbs. (16,200 kg). Some steel and titanium is present in structural elements of the aircraft, requiring higher stress tolerances.
The F1 features high-mounted, conventionally swept anhedral wings and a low-mounted tailplane. The tail assembly is conventional, with all-moving stabilators. Twin ventral fins are mounted inboard of the stabilators. These fins generate vortices for the stabilators, improving their effectiveness at high angles of attack. Full-span leading edge double-slot flaps augment lift to reduce the F1’s stall speed. Perforated spoilers mounted on the wings induce drag and reduce lift for landings, and similarly perforated, hydraulically actuated airbrakes are mounted under the engine intakes.
Semicircular engine intakes with traditional splitter plates feed the F1’s bifurcated engine duct. Variable-geometry half-cones are fitted to the intakes and can move forward to facilitate optimal airflow at supersonic speeds. To further improve the F1’s short-field capability, a brake parachute mounted at the base of the tailfin can be deployed to aid the airbrake. The F1’s landing gear are arranged in tricycle fashion, and all three gear bogeys feature dual wheels for improved flotation over unimproved runways. The nose gear retracts backwards, and the main gear retracts forward.
The aircraft’s canopy hinges up to the rear. For emergency egress, the pilot sits on a Martin-Baker Mk. 4 ejection seat. The Mk. 4 can operate at ground level but requires an airspeed of at least 90 kt (167 kph) to facilitate a safe ejection.
The Snecma Atar 09K50 afterburning single-shaft turbojet engine was derived from the previous Atar 09K10, which was in turn an improved variant of the Atar 09C used on the Mirage III and 5. The basic Atar design consists of a nine-stage axial flow compressor followed by a combustion chamber with 20 burners in an annular arrangement and a two-stage axial flow turbine.
The Atar 09K50 offers improved specific fuel consumption at subsonic speeds, increased thrust and acceleration and improved overhaul life over its predecessors. For comparison, the maximum afterburning thrust of 15,870 lbf. (7,200 kgf) generated by the Atar 09K50 exceeds the 13,320 lbf. (6,040 kgf) maximum afterburning thrust of the Atar 09C by 19.1%. These gains were achieved with advances in metallurgy and compressor design; the turbine blades are cast instead of forged and alterations to stages 1 and 8 of the compressor give the 9K50 improved mass flow and a higher pressure ratio. The engine controller also was improved. Ease of maintenance apparently was not a priority for the design, as the engine can only be split into modules for maintenance at the depot level, limiting field maintainability.
Fuel tanks are arranged in the aft fuselage, near the engine, and in the wings. Fuel carriage was a significant factor in the aircraft’s design because of the range limitations of the Mirage III.
The primary avionics bay is located immediately aft of the cockpit. Primary avionics included a tactical air navigation system (TACAN), a radar altimeter, a basic datalink for ground-controlled interceptions, an instrument landing system, VHF-band and UHF-band radios, and an identification-friend-or-foe transponder.
The Mirage F1 carries the Thomson-CSF Cyrano IV multimode monopulse doppler radar, an improved variant of the Cyrano I and III radars used in the Mirage IIIC and IIIE. The original Cyrano I was among the first monopulse radars ever used on a production fighter aircraft, and by the 1972 beginning of Cyrano IV series production the family had advanced substantially. The Cyrano IV features an inverted Cassegrain antenna that allows for increased range over the Cyrano IV while minimizing the profile enough to fit in the F1’s nosecone. Miniaturization enabled by the widespread use of printed circuit electronics further reduced the set’s volume and improved maintainability. It can detect a fighter size target at (34.18 mi.) 55 km.
The F1 carries twin DEFA 30mm revolver cannons installed in the belly aft of the engine intakes, with 135 rounds of ammunition per gun. For external stores, a centerline hardpoint is rated for 4,630 lbs. (2,100 kg) and one hardpoint under each wing is rated for 2,865 lbs. (1,300 kg). All three of these hardpoints are plumbed to accommodate external fuel tanks. An additional dry pylon rated for up to 1,215 lbs. (550 kg) could be fitted to each outer wing. Finally, the wingtips carry rails for the Matra 550 Magic IR-guided air-to-air missile (AAM) and are rated for 330 lbs. (150 kg).
Possible stores for the Mirage F1 include:
- Three 317 US gal. (1,200 l) (two underwing, one centerline) external fuel tanks, or a lone 580 US gal. (2,200 l) centerline tank.
- Two Matra R.550 Magic short-range infrared (IR) guided AAMs on wingtip rails.
- Two Matra 530 semi-active radar homing medium-range or longer-range and faster Matra Super 530F AAMs. The 530 can also be carried with an IR seeker.
- SNEB 68-millimeter rocket pods.
- BLG 66 Belouga 672 lbs. (305 kg) parachute-retarded cluster bombs.
- Matra Durandal 483 lbs. (219 kg) rocket-boosted, runway-cratering munitions.
- Thomson-Brandt BAP 100 52 lbs. (32.5 kg) rocket-boosted, parachute-retarded, runway-cratering munitions carried in sticks of 12-18 per pylon.
- BAT 120 light anti-armor fragmentation bombs carried in sticks of 18 per pylon.
- AS-37 ARMAT antiradiation missiles, carried on the centerline pylon. A TV-guided variant was developed in cooperation with the United Kingdom but was never procured by France.
- Matra AS-30L laser-guided missiles and BGL 250/400/1000 series laser-guided bombs supported by the Thomson-CSF Automatic Tracking and Laser Integration System (ATLIS) targeting pod. ATLIS was designed for carriage aboard single-seat aircraft, and its target locking feature allows a lone pilot to conduct air-to-ground sorties with minimal distraction.
The F1A (attaque – attack) variant of the Mirage was designed for the South African Air Force (SAAF). It was optimized for ground attack and day operations and does not retain the F1C’s night capability. The Cyrano IV was replaced with the smaller and cheaper ESD AIDA 2 radar, the aircraft’s fuel capacity was improved and a retractable air-to-air refueling probe was fitted forward of the cockpit. To improve ground attack capability over the F1C, a navigation/attack system complete with a moving map was installed and a Thomson-CSF TMV-630 laser rangefinder was fitted under the nose.
The F1B (biplace – two-seater) is a two-seat trainer derivative of the original F1C, which first flew in May 1976. While it was originally developed for Kuwait, the French Air Force eventually procured the type. Both cannons are removed from the aircraft, and the forward fuselage is stretched by 11.8 in (30 cm) to accommodate the second pilot station. Fuel carriage is reduced by 119 U.S. gal. (450 l). The aircraft is not plumbed for aerial refueling but can nevertheless be fitted with a dummy probe to facilitate training operations. Because of its later design and production date, the F1B featured superior Mark 10 zero-zero ejection seats from the beginning instead of the Mk. 4 seats present on the F1C.
The F1C (chasse - fighter) is the original, pure day fighter variant of the aircraft. The service eventually obtained 87 F1Cs. The 71st introduced a Thomson-CSF BF radar warning receiver (RWR) with antennas in the tail. This RWR provided audio cues and indicated the broad direction of any threat via dashboard display lamps. While it was a basic system, it had a limited capability to identify classes of radar threat.
The F1C-200 designation is applied to F1C aircraft delivered or modified with the installation of a 3.15-in. (8-cm) fuselage extension designed to accommodate a nose-mounted refueling probe that is removable on the ground but not retractable.
The F1CR (chasse reconnaissance – reconnaissance fighter) is a dedicated reconnaissance variant of the F1C procured by the French Air Force in the 1980s. It was fitted with an in-flight refueling probe and carried the zero-zero Mk. 10 ejection seat. In addition to an integrated Thomson-TRT 40 panoramic camera or Thomson-TRT 33 vertical camera fitted under the nose and an SAT SCM2400 Super Cyclope infrared linescan system mounted in place of the starboard cannon, the F1CR carried a wide array of photoreconnaissance and electronic intelligence payloads. Chief among these was the RP35P pod, which carried a 75, 150, 200, and 600mm variable focal length camera. The Thomson-CSF Raphael TH side-looking airborne radar (SLAR) imaging pod and Astac ELINT pod also were noteworthy payloads.
The F1CR also carried the superior Cyrano IVM radar, integrating the incremental improvements to the Cyrano IV detailed in the “Upgrades” section, contour and terrestrial mapping functions and improved resistance to electronic countermeasures. It was later replaced with the Cyrano IVMR. The IVMR featured improved ground attack and navigation capabilities over previous Cyrano IV models, and featured modular electronics to aid maintenance. Finally, the F1CR carried a Sagem ULISS 47 inertial navigation system (INS).
The F1CT is a ground-attack variant of the F1C-200 developed as an interim upgrade for French F1C-200s while the Rafale finished its development. It was fitted with the TMV-630 laser rangefinder previously used on the F1A, a Sherloc RWR, the Sagem ULISS 47 INS and a digital processor. The airframe also was strengthened. Most importantly, the F1CT incorporated the upgraded Cyrano IVM radar previously used on the F1CR.
The F1E is an export variant with improved avionics for strike roles. It included a modernized Cyrano IVM radar. The electromechanical viewfinder was replaced with a full head-up-display (HUD). Some F1E aircraft were equipped with in-flight refueling probes.
The F1EQ-5 and F1EQ-6 are variants of the earlier Mirage F1EQ series aircraft delivered to Iraq modified with the Cyrano IVM-3 radar capable of supporting engagements with the Exocet anti-ship missile. Earlier F1EQ variants are generally similar to the F1E and are described in brief in the “Production and Delivery History” section.
The F1D is a two-seat trainer variant derived from the F1E.
The F1M is a variant of the F1 designed to provide enhanced capabilities to remanufactured Spanish Mirages. It included new multifunctional displays (but not a full glass cockpit), new air-to-ground target designation capabilities, a GPS/INS system, NVG-compatible cockpit lighting, hands-on-throttle-and-stick controls, a MIL-STD-153 data bus, Mode 4 digital identification friend-or-foe, HAVE QUICK II standard jam-resistant radios and a Sextant Avionique 26-degree field-of-view HUD capable of displaying radar data. The radar also was upgraded to the Cyrano IVM standard.
Originally known as the F1E before that designation was applied to a production export variant, the M53 was a Mirage prototype devised in 1973 to compete against the General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin) F-16 for a fighter contract for Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. The M53 was so named for the larger Snecma M53 engine it carried, which required both larger air intakes and a shortened rear fuselage, visually distinguishing it from other F1 variants. Ultimately, General Dynamics won out, and the M53 never became a production aircraft.
The original Mk. 4 ejection seats aboard F1 aircraft eventually were either upgraded to the zero-zero Mk. 6 standard or replaced by the zero-zero Mk. 10. The F1’s radar system also received incremental upgrades besides the switch to the Cyrano IVM for the F1CR and F1CT. The original Cyrano IV-0 was upgraded to the IV-1, which had both moving target indicator and look down modes, and then to the Cyrano IV-2, which had ground mapping functionality and extended air-to-ground modes.
No countermeasures were built into the F1C design, though a Phimat chaff-flare dispenser and an active jammer pod could be fitted underwing. A Lacroix flare dispenser also could be fitted into the break parachute fairing in lieu of the parachute. Eventually, the Matra Corail chaff-flare dispenser was approved for use on the aircraft. The Corail system was installed conformally under the wing next to the fuselage.
French F1CR Upgrades
Over the course of its service in the French Air Force the F1CR received numerous substantial upgrades, beginning with the replacement of the remaining cannon with a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) pod. Thereafter the Thomson-CSF ASTAC (Analyseur de Signal Tactiques) pod was qualified for use with the F1CR and the RAPHAEL-HT pod was upgraded. Later in the decade, the Thomson-CSF PRESTO (Pod, Reconnaissance, Stand Off) long-range oblique photography pod with a film camera was fitted to the F1CR. Eventually the PRESTO pods were upgraded with an electro-optical camera and a high-speed data recorder.
MF2000 is a designation applied to Moroccan F1C and F1E aircraft upgraded under a 2005 contract with ASTRAC, a joint venture between Thales and Sagem (a Safran subsidiary). Approximately 27 aircraft were upgraded. The MF2000 standard includes a full glass cockpit, a new HUD, an up-front control panel, full hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) controls, a zero-zero ejection seat, new radios, a global positioning system receiver and a Thales RC400 multi-mode pulse-doppler radar. Its combat system is built around two Sagem mission computers and a MIL STD 1553B databus. It also is outfitted with a digital radar warning receiver and can carry a PAJ FA defensive electronic countermeasures (DECM) pod. The AIM-9L/M Sidewinder, Matra R.550 Magic II, MICA IR and MICA EM AAMs are certified for use with the MF2000.
To augment the F1’s ground attack capabilities, the MF2000 can carry the Damocles day/night targeting pod, AASM powered stand-off munition, ARMAT antiradiation missile, and MBDA AM39 Exocet anti-ship missile. Engine upgrades grant the Atar 09K50 aboard the MF2000 improved afterburning thrust of 16,535 lbf. (7,500 kf), 660 lbf. (300 kgf) over the base engine.
South African F1A Upgrades
After losing multiple aircraft to surface-to-air missiles in Angola, South Africa supplemented the radar warning receiver (RWR) aboard their F1As with an integrated chaff-and-flares countermeasures system called the radar and infrared misleading system (RIMS). The ventral fins were replaced with thickened versions containing RIMS dispensers, which caused a significant amount of additional drag. South Africa also procured ELT/555(V)3 electronic countermeasures (ECM) pods for use on the F1.
After South Africa ceased military involvement in Angola, it sought to further upgrade the F1A by replacing its engine with the SMR95, a derivative of the Klimov RD-33, and integrating the Russian R-73 AAM. This effort was dubbed the “Super Mirage F1,” but it was never implemented beyond prototyping work on aircraft no. 216.
Spanish ECM Upgrade
In the mid-1990s, Spain sought to recapitalize its Mirage F1 fleet to maintain the aircraft’s relevance into the early 21st century. To do so, it integrated a new navigation/attack system, the ENSA EN/ALR-300(V)2 J-band radar warning receiver (RWR), the Tracor (now BAE Systems) AN/ALE-40 chaff/flare countermeasures dispenser system and the Dassault Barax detector-jammer pod. The EN/ALR-300 already was installed on the Spanish F1 fleet by the time of the upgrade but also was backfitted on 15 new attrition reserve aircraft acquired from the French and Qatari air forces.
Production and Delivery History
Mirage F1 production began in 1973 and terminated in 1990, discounting the four preproduction aircraft.
Four F1A’s were transferred to the Republic of the Congo by South Africa between 2010 and 2012. The aircraft have remained in service since and are the only fixed-wing combat aircraft currently available to the Congolese Air Force.
Ecuador received 16 F1Es and two F1Bs between 1979 and 1982 under a 1977 contract. The Dassault export variant designations for these aircraft were F1JA and F1JE, respectively. Before their withdrawal from service in February 2011, Ecuador suffered five F1 crashes, four of the F1E and one of the F1B. Accordingly, twelve F1Es and one F1B remain in storage at Latacunga and Manta.
Discounting remanufactured aircraft and the five prototypes, 246 new-build Mirage F1s were delivered to the French Air Force starting in 1973. Of these, 87 were the original F1C variant (of which six were later remanufactured to the F1C-200 standard and 55 were remanufactured to the F1CT standard), 77 were the follow-on F1C-200 (of which two were later remanufactured to the F1CR standard), 20 were the F1B variant and 62 were the F1CR. By 2014 only the F1B and F1CR remained in service, and all of the aircraft were retired by the end of the year.
Gabon acquired eight ex-South African Air Force F1As from Aerosud in the early 2000s. Two were delivered in 2006, and two more followed in 2006. A final two arrived in 2010, but the remaining two were never delivered. All six aircraft remain in service today and represent the Gabonese Air Force’s primary tactical aircraft.
Greece received 40 F1Cs between 1975 and 1978 under a 1974 contract. The Dassault export variant designation for these aircraft is F1CG. The outer wing pylons aboard Greek F1Cs were wired for the AIM-9, and during their service lives they were also fitted with the AN/ALR-66 radar warning receiver.
The F1C was withdrawn from Hellenic Air Force service in June 2003, and over its 25 years of service 16 of the aircraft were lost. One is now on static display at the Hellenic Air Force Museum, and 23 of the aircraft remain in storage.
25 ex-Iraqi Air Force Mirage F1’s were introduced to Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) service after the aircraft flew to Iran during the Gulf War. 18 of these were F1EQ aircraft, and the remaining seven were F1BQs. Of the F1EQs, three were F1EQ1s, two were F1EQ2s, one was an F1EQ4, three were F1EQ5s, and the remaining nine were F1EQ6s. One of these, two F1EQs and one F1BQ are known to have crashed, leaving 16 F1EQs and six F1BQs available to the IRIAF today.
Seeking to modernize its air force, Iraq in 1977 placed its first order for 36 F1 aircraft. These aircraft were an Iraqi version of the F1E called the F1EQ1, as well as four trainers dubbed the F1BQ by Dassault. The F1BQ also is sometimes described as the F1BQ3. As Iraq purchased more aircraft, their capabilities expanded, first with the F1EQ2 midway through its first order and then with the 28 F1EQ4s Iraq ordered in 1979, a refueling probe-equipped variant also sometimes described with the “-200” suffix commonly applied to probe-equipped F1s. This order also included five more F1BQs and 20 of the F1EQ5 follow-on to the F1EQ4. A final order for 36 F1EQ6 and 10 F1BQ aircraft was placed in 1985, but deliveries were halted in August 1990 under a UN Security Council arms embargo before the order was complete. Only six of the F1BQs and 30 of the F1EQ6s were actually delivered. In total, 111 F1EQ and 15 F1BQ aircraft were delivered to Iraq.
While data on F1 losses in Iraqi service is fairly sparse, at least three were lost in combat during the Iran-Iraq war. During the 1991 Gulf War, 10 were lost in combat and a further 25 fled to Iran, where they were incorporated into the IRIAF. All of the combat losses were F1EQs. At least three more were captured by U.S. forces during the 2003 invasion and brought to the U.S. Since the invasion, Iraq has not operated any of its Mirages, and the fate of most of them is unknown.
17 F1C and four F1B aircraft were delivered in 1981 and 1982, with 17 F1Es following in 1982 and 1983. The Dassault export designations for aircraft delivered to Jordan were F1CJ, F1BJ and F1EJ, respectively. Two additional F1Bs were transferred in 2006 by the Spanish Air Force, which had acquired the two from Qatar. By the time of the F1’s retirement from Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) service around 2009, the Jordanian F1 fleet had suffered 11 crashes across the three types, leaving five F1Bs, 15 F1Es and nine F1Cs in storage or otherwise disposed of in Jordan.
Kuwait received its first F1s from Dassault in 1976 under a deal to acquire 18 F1Cs and two F1Bs, with export designations of F1CK and F1BK. The delivery was complete the next year and soon after was followed by a $400 million ($1.05 billion USD in 2019) 1983 deal for nine more F1Cs and four more F1Bs. During the Gulf War, one F1C was destroyed on the ground by Iraqi artillery. The entire fleet was retired by 2002, and accounting for the three F1C and two F1B crashes during its service life, 23 F1Cs and four F1Bs were stored or otherwise disposed in Kuwait.
Libya acquired 16 F1A, 16 F1E and six F1B aircraft under a 1975 deal. Dassault’s export designations for these aircraft were F1AD, F1ED and F1BD, respectively. Deliveries began in 1978 and concluded in 1981. At least three F1 aircraft, two of them F1As and the other an unknown variant, were lost in crashes in the 1970s and 1980s.
During the Libyan civil war, the Libyan Air Force collapsed, and it is unclear how many F1s survived, or in what condition. However, both the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Government of National Accord (GNA) have at points brought a few of the aircraft back into service only to lose them shortly thereafter. Since the start of the conflict the GNA has brought at least two F1Es and one F1A into service. Both F1Es were shot down and the F1A crashed. Another F1E was noted on satellite imagery of Misrata airfield in mid-2019, but it is unclear if this example is flyable. On the LNA side, one F1A was restored to service in 2018 before being lost in April 2019, and one F1E was restored in 2018. The F1E appears to remain operational.
Between 1978 and 1979, the Royal Moroccan Air Force received 30 F1Cs from Dassault. These were immediately followed by 20 F1Es. Dassault designated the aircraft delivered to Morocco as the F1CH and F1EH, respectively. Over its early service life, the Moroccan F1 fleet suffered at least five crashes. By 2006, Morocco had signed a €420 million ($569.8 million USD in 2019) contract with ASTRAC to modernize 27 of its remaining Mirages to the MF2000 standard. These aircraft were designated the F1EM VI and the F1CM VI, and deliveries were complete by 2012. Since two MF2000 standard aircraft have been lost since, only 25 MF2000s remain in service today.
In 1983, Qatar took delivery of its first Mirage F1 aircraft under a deal with Dassault that included 13 F1Es and three F1Ds. Dassault’s export designation for F1Es delivered to Qatar was F1EDA, and its designation for the F1Ds was F1DDA.
The F1’s service life in the Qatari Emiri Air Force was fairly short and undistinguished. Two of the F1Es and one of the F1Ds were lost in crashes, and only a few years after the Gulf War Qatar opted to sell its entire F1 fleet to Spain via Dassault. Another F1E crashed in 1996 prior to its transfer to Spain, but by December 1997 the last remaining aircraft had been delivered.
In 1971, Dassault and SNECMA announced an agreement with South Africa to facilitate first local assembly and then full license production of the Mirage F1. While the SAAF intended to eventually procure up to 100 aircraft, the imposition of a United Nations (UN) mandatory arms embargo in 1977 negated this possibility, particularly as up to this point only assembly had occurred. Atlas, the South African contractor working on the aircraft, therefore did not possess the technical expertise or facilities necessary to produce the aircraft without French cooperation. Sixteen F1Cs (export designation F1CZ) and 32 F1As (export designation F1AZ) were delivered between 1975 and 1977, before the arms embargo took effect. The F1Cs were retired in 1993, and the F1As followed in 1997.
Over two decades of SAAF service, many F1s were lost in crashes and in combat. Seven F1Cs were destroyed, though parts from serials 205 and 206 (lost in 1986 and 1987, respectively) were used to build a new aircraft (serial number 205). Another aircraft was procured to replace serial 203, lost in 1979. This leaves 11 aircraft at the time of the fleet’s retirement in 1993, three of which ended up in museums or on static display, with three more granted to universities and tech schools. Of the 32 F1As, six were lost in crashes and another two were shot down over Angola in 1988, leaving 24 aircraft at the time of their retirement. In 2002, 22 of these were sold to Aerosud to be offered for to sale to third parties. The remaining two are on static display at SAAF bases.
Spain was one of the earliest and most significant foreign operators of the F1, eventually procuring nearly a hundred of the aircraft. Spain signed an initial $86 million ($518.8 million USD in 2019) contract for 15 F1C aircraft in 1973, and these were delivered in 1975. Contracts followed in 1977 and 1978 for 10 and 20 F1Cs, respectively, which entered service from 1978 to 1980. Spain also included 22 of the improved F1Es in its 1978 order, along with six F1B trainers. This deal totaled $800 million ($3.29 billion USD in 2019), with substantial offsets for Spanish industry. In 1994 and 1997 Spain secured the transfer of 10 F1E and two F1D aircraft that Qatar had sold back to Dassault. In 1994 and 1995, it also acquired four additional F1Cs from the French Air Force.
In addition to the manufacturer’s export designations, Spain imposed its own designations on its F1s. The F1C was known as the F1CE by Dassault and designated by Spain as the C-14A; the F1B was designated the F1BE by Dassault and as the C-14B by Spain; and the F1E was designated by Dassault as the F1EE and by Spain as the CE-14A. Over the years 17 F1Cs, four F1Bs and five F1Es were lost in crashes.
At the end of the 20th century, Spain embarked upon a major modernization effort for its F1 fleet. It ultimately upgraded 28 F1C and 17 F1E aircraft to the F1M standard. Accounting for eight F1M losses, 37 F1Ms remained when Spain finally retired the fleet in 2013. In November 2017, it sold 22 F1B/M aircraft to Draken international.
As a competent third-generation fighter aircraft only recently retired by Spain and France, and with examples in fairly good condition available in quantity in those countries and elsewhere, the F1 is an attractive proposition for private firms seeking to provide adversary training to national air forces. This is compounded by the fact that many of the aircraft were modernized extensively prior to their retirement.
Two contractors have acquired retired Mirage F1’s to refurbish and use to fulfill dissimilar air combat training contracts with the U.S. Air Force under the Combat Air Force Adversary Air (CAF ADAIR) program. Set to commence in October 2020, four companies each will bid for task orders to conduct adversary training at 12 operating locations across the country. The companies are Tactical Air Support, flying ex-RJAF F-14E/F Tiger IIs; Top Aces, flying A-4N Skyhawks; Textron Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC), flying ex-French Air Force Mirage F1s and possibly ex-RJAF F-16A/Bs; and Draken International, flying ex-Spanish Air Force F1Ms.
Under CAF ADAIR, contractors must provide aircraft capable of carrying ECM pods with a capability equivalent to or in excess of the AN/ALQ-188V4 and captive air training missiles (CATMs) equivalent to the AIM-9M or AIM-9X (depending on the task order). Minimum requirements under the most demanding CAF ADAIR aircraft category (C) stipulate that aircraft should be capable of operating up to 50,000 ft. (15,240 m) at a maximum speed of Mach 1.5 (1,852 km/h), with a radar capable of tracking more than two “fighter-size” targets at 80 nmi (148 km) with a 50% probability of detection, among other things. Note that CAF ADAIR is structured such that aircraft with lesser capabilities in a given category can still compete provided they make up for it with a “capability exchange”--for example, an aircraft can still be classified in Category C with a 50 nmi (93 km) range, dual-target-track radar provided it meets the airframe performance requirements and carries an infrared search-and-track (IRST) system capable of tracking a 4th-generation, twin-engine fighter in military power at 75 nmi (139 km) in ideal conditions, a Link 16 datalink, and a high off-boresight capability of at least 80 degrees.
ATAC acquired 16 F1CTs, 10 F1CRs, six F1Bs, spares and support equipment and 150 Atar 09K50 engines from the French Air Force in September 2017, along with 31 unflyable F1 aircraft it intends to repair or use for spares. Deliveries to ATAC began in 2018. Nine F1Bs, 14 F1CRs and 17 F1CTs are now registered to ATAC according to the FAA.
Draken International acquired 22 F1Ms and their associated support equipment from the Spanish Air Force in November 2017. As the F1M is already equipped with modernized avionics and a newer radar, the required recapitalization investment for Draken to get its aircraft to CAF ADAIR standards is likely to be smaller than it is for ATAC. However, Draken reportedly plans to undertake a drastic modernization to its aircraft including Link 16, an IRST system and new radars. Fourteen of the aircraft are slated to receive the Westinghouse AN/APG-68 radar, and the remaining aircraft will receive an unspecified active electronically scanned array.
In a similar development, Paramount Group acquired four F1Bs from France in August 2017. Interestingly, all of these are registered in the U.S. Paramount had long provided training and logistical support to ex-SAAF F1 aircraft exported to other countries, but the outright acquisition of the French aircraft provides it with the capability to directly support adversary air training for customers. Paramount also assisted Draken International with the overhaul of its newly acquired F1s under an April 2018 agreement.