Julian Moxon/Paris

Dassault Aviation has delivered the first three of 12 Mirage 2000-5 fighters to Qatar from its factory in Merignac, Bordeaux, as it continues to battle to win a major order for up to 80 aircraft from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The versions delivered to Qatar are the first to be qualified for air-to-ground missions as well as for the original Mirage 2000-5's air-defence role. The aircraft come from a production line which is already engaged in the delivery of 60 air-defence variants to Taiwan.

Qatar is understood to have paid for air-to-ground qualification of its aircraft, indicating a likely purchase of French air-to-surface weaponry. Dassault, however, declines to reveal which air-to-ground weapons have been, or may be, purchased by Qatar.

The Qatari Mirage 2000-5s were shown with an export version of the Matra BAe Dynamics Apache runway-denial/cruise missile, called the Black Pearl, during the Qatar delivery celebration on 8 September. Since the contract was concluded in 1994, Matra has consistently refused to comment on claims that a variant of the Apache was included in the Qatari deal.

The three aircraft delivered initially to Qatar will be used for training Qatari Emiri air force pilots at the French air force's training centre at Mont St Marsan.

The battle for the order from the UAE is being fought against Lockheed Martin, offering the proposed Block 60 variant of the F-16, and Eurofighter, with its EF2000. Dassault is proposing both the Rafale and the -9 version of the Mirage 2000.

Source: Flight International