30 Years of Mirage IVs

Paul Jackson visits Mont-de-Marsan, home of the Mirage IV.

THE FRENCH NUCLEAR deterrent celebrated three decades of operational capability at Mont-de-Marsan on October 20 with a flypast of strike aircraft and their supporting elements, both ageing and modern. At the centre of proceedings was resident squadron, Escaaron de Bombardement 1/91 Gascogne whose Mirage IVAs and AN11 nuclear bombs were first placed on round-the-clock alert on October 1,1964.

At its peak, the air element of the Force de Frappe comprised 62 Mirage IVAs in nine squadrons and an OCU, supported by 12 Boeing C-135F tankers modified for hose-and-drogue refuelling. The mission profile switched to low level in 1967 and weapons were accordingly modified via AN21 to lay down AN22. Availability of silo-launched missiles permitted the alert posture to be scaled down from June 30, 1975 onwards and a year later the force was reduced by a third.

Further disbandments followed, leaving only EB 1/91 at Mont-de-Marson and EB 2/91 Sretogne at Cazaux after 1988. However, both have been upgraded with Mirage IVP conversions and fhe Aerospatiale ASMP 300 kiloton stand-off weapon, with which EB 1/91 was re-declared on May 1, 1986. In parallel, the remaining 11 tankers have been structurally strengthened, re-engined with CFM56 turbofans (designated C-135FR) and are currently receiving FRL Mk 32B under-wing refuelling pods.

Since September 1 1991, the Forces Aeriennes Slralegiques has been augmented by three squadrons or Mirage 2000Ns transferred from the tactical command and also equipped with ASMP: EC 1/4 Dauphine, EC 2/4 Lalayetle and EC 3/4 Limousin. The least-known FAS element is Escadron Avion 1 /59 Bigorre, which is equipped with four Transoll C-160Hs at Evreux for communications with nuclear submarines at sea.

The venerable Mirage IV continues to perform in its dual strike and reconnaissance roles. Fitted with a G52 camera pod on the centreline, Mirage IVPs have undertaken missions over Bosnia in support of the UN monitoring force, confirming that there is still no complete replacement for Europe’s last big AMA strategic bomber.

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