The Dassault Mirage IVP's role has moved from that of strategic strike to one of strategic reconnaissance.

Gert Kromhout/MONT DE MARSAN

After more than 30 years, the Dassault-Breguet Mirage IVP of the French air force has lost its nuclear mission, with the disbandment of one of two squadrons still equipped with the twin-engined delta-wing bomber.

Since August, the sole surviving Mirage IVP squadron has concentrated full-time on strategic reconnaissance, introduced as a secondary role for the Mirage IV in 1968. The aircraft have been used for this over Bosnia since early 1995 and, more recently, for Operation Condor over the disputed Hanish Islands in the Red Sea.

Maj Pierre Terry, commanding officer of ERS 1/91 "Gascogne" Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron at Mont de Marsan Air Base in south-western France, says that "strategic" reconnaissance is viewed as a means of gathering information to be used by high-level politicians and the military. "It is the necessary tool to prevent, monitor or get a settlement in crisis situations. The information gathered generally covers large areas of the Earth's surface. The targets are located very far from the departure point," he says. His unit has five of the ageing aircraft and reports to the Commandement des Forces Aériennes Strategiques.


The Mirage IVP has an extensive photographic reconnaissance suite, known as the CT52 pod, under the centre-line station. This large pod accommodates the Omera 36 camera system, containing three 600mm cameras for medium- to high-altitude reconnaissance, a Wild RC8F 152mm ground-mapping camera for medium altitude, and two 150mm units, and a 75mm panoramic camera (Omera 35). The high-altitude cameras can be replaced by a single SAT "Super Cyclope" infra-red line scanner also used on the Mirage F1CR tactical-reconnaissance fighter. "The 152mm Wild ground-mapping camera is our most important asset," says Terry. "The Wild camera is the only ground-mapping camera in the French armed forces. It provides interpreters with 240 x 240mm negatives that allow considerable enlargements to be made," he adds.

Ground mapping requires precise flying. As an aid, the weapon-system officer in the back seat has a downward-looking periscope. The periscope was used originally for navigation and target identification when the Mirage IV employed free-fall nuclear bombs. "This slaved optical system is very important," says Terry. "On ground-mapping missions, we usually fly multiple parallel paths to map the area, so that we can generate a large photo composed of separate, but sized, photographs. The more precisely the paths are planned and flown, the easier the compositions are generated," he adds.

Although the CT52 accommodates systems for low- to high-altitude reconnaissance, those for medium to high altitude remain the primary operating environment. "Our low-level reconnaissance is only complementary to dedicated tactical-reconnaissance aircraft," Terry explains. "The primary advantage of the IVP is its long endurance. So, we mostly do low-level reconnaissance in areas where tactical aircraft cannot come, because of their shorter range," he adds.

An advantage in long-range missions is the two-man crew, who do their job in relatively spacious cockpits. The range of the Mirage IVP without in-flight refuelling is known to be 1,250km (670nm): inflight refuelling extends this considerably.

The IVP has an extensive self-defence suite. It carries a Thomson-CSF Barracuda jamming pod under the port wing and a Matra/Bofors BOZ 103 chaff/flare-dispenser pod under the starboard wing. It also carries chaff dispensers and an electronic-countermeasures (ECM) system internally. ECM can be handled automatically or manually by the weapon-system officer.


Since June, and at United Nations' request, the IVP is also used in strategic reconnaissance over the disputed Hanish Islands, in the narrow Red Sea. These are claimed by Yemen, as well as Eritrea, respectively located on the east and west side of the Red Sea.

The IVP operations are undertaken under operation Condor from Djibouti, a neighbouring country of Eritrea, where France has a strong military presence, including a squadron of Mirage F1Cs. The IVPs conduct ground mapping as well as low-level reconnaissance when there is a demand. Missions were undertaken in June and August.

Bosnia missions are conducted under Operation Salamandre. Twice a week, a IVP is flown from Mont de Marsan to a tanker orbiting over the Adriatic Sea. The tanker is also visited during the return flight. The aircraft operate at 12,000ft (3,700m) or higher. Since Mirage IV operations over Bosnia started, ERS 1/91 (and in its former capacity as Escadron de Bombardement 1/91) has flown 120 missions over Bosnia as of mid-September 1996.

ERS 1/91 has its own - monochrome-only - processing equipment and interpretation staff. So initial interpretation is done before the images are sent to the Combined Air Operations Centre in Vicenza when it concerns Bosnia imagery. Another customer is the military-intelligence centre near Paris. Terry expects a datalink and equipment to store images digitally from 1997. Then images can be broadcast directly to the users.


At 30 years-plus, the aircraft are maintenance-intensive. According to Terry, three ground technicians are needed for flight preparation and post-flight handling, against one for a tactical fighter. Their old age also generates many maintenance hours. Of the five aircraft, there is always one in second-level maintenance at the depot in Bordeaux-Merignac. One aircraft is always combat-ready in case a mission has to be conducted at short notice.

Although only five aircraft are assigned, the squadron has a larger number at its disposal since a number of IVPs are in storage at Chateaudun air base.

Source: Flight International