The USA is backing a proposal by France to outfit Ukraine with some of the French air force’s older Dassault Mirage 2000 fighter jets.

US secretary of defense Lloyd Austin affirmed Washington’s support for France transferring the fourth-generation aircraft, which Austin described as a “great capability”, during a meeting of NATO defence ministers on 14 June.

“I also welcome France’s contribution, because every bit helps,” Austin said during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels.

French President Emmanuel Macron suggested the idea of a Mirage transfer during the week of ceremonies in Normandy commemorating the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in the Second World War.

French air force Mirage 2000 c USAF

Source: Allied Joint Force Command Naples

France has not specified how many Mirage 2000-5 fighters it will offer to Ukraine, but the country has some 26 of the older Dassault jets still in service

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky joined allied heads of state in France for those commemorations.

“We will launch a new cooperation and announce the transfer of Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets to Ukraine, made by French manufacturer Dassault, and train their Ukrainian pilots in France,” Macron told French TV on 6 June.

“You need normally between five-six months, so by the end of the year there will be pilots,” he added, reiterating that the aviators would be trained in France.

Cirium data shows that the French air force retains 26 of the older Mirage 2000-5Fs in service. The type has largely been replaced by Dassault’s newer Rafale fighter. The country also boasts a fleet of 65 Mirage 2000Ds.

Paris has not specified the number of jets it plans to send to Ukraine. The move comes as a so-called “fighter coalition” of several NATO states, including Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway, are preparing to transfer the first batch of second-hand Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters to Ukraine in the coming weeks.

Gripen C

Source: Stefan Kalm/Saab

Sweden had also proposed sending a number of older Saab Gripen C fighters to Ukraine, but withdrew the idea after apparently meeting resistance from allies

Notably, a similar offer from Sweden to provide Kyiv with some of the Swedish air force’s older Saab Gripen fighters was withdrawn in May. Stockholm at the time said the decision was influenced by concern from fellow NATO members that introducing multiple varieties of new combat aircraft at once could be counter-productive.

“We were persuaded by other members of the aviation coalition to wait with Gripen,” Swedish defence minister Pal Jonsson said on 28 May. “Now the focus for Ukraine is to implement a programme to accept F-16 aircraft.”

The USA is key figure in the Ukraine fighter coalition, providing both regulatory approval for the transfer of American-made F-16s and instruction to Ukrainian aviators and maintainers.

For reasons that have not immediately been made clear, Washington has opted to support the French decision to offer a third Western fighter type to Ukraine.

“Again, every bit helps,” Austin said, reiterating his earlier line.

“We have to make sure that we have all of the things in place to manage two complex systems and protect those systems at the same time,” he adds. “We just need to make sure that we knit together the sustainment and make sure that those systems are interoperable as used in Ukraine.”

Neither Sweden nor France operate the US-made F-16, with both countries boasting mature fighter design and manufacturing industries of their own.

Sweden is in the process of ramping up production on the latest Gripen E and F variant of the venerable single-engined fighter line. Those aircraft, which are also being fielded to Brazil, will eventually replace Sweden’s older C and D-model Gripens.