A French Mirage 2000-5F fighter jet takes off from the Luxeuil-Saint-Sauveur air base (eastern France) on March 13, 2022.

French President Emmanuel Macron surprised observers on Thursday, June 6, in a televised interview on TF1 and France 2 conducted after the commemorations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when he announced that France would be sending fighter jets to Ukraine. “A plan for the transfer” of Mirage 2000-5s fighters will be launched “as soon as tomorrow,” the French president said, on the eve of a visit to Paris by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In recent months, several sources within the armed forces and the government suggested that they had given up on this option, which was considered too complex, opting instead to step aside in favor of transfers of American F-16s proposed by other countries − Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway. The president’s announcement has signified a break with that line. Macron did not specify how many Mirage jets might be sent, but he did say that “a coalition” was being “built” “with other partners,” and that this could take “five to six months.”

In practice, there aren’t many realistic options for France to hand over a reasonable number of aircraft to Ukraine. The French air force has only a limited number of fighters at its disposal (26 Mirage 2000-5s, out of around 200 Mirage and Rafale aircraft). These numbers have already barely sufficed for France to carry out all the missions for which it is responsible on a day-to-day basis (territorial surveillance, deterrence, participation in NATO missions, etc.).

The last French fighter squadron still operating Mirage 2000-5s is the 1/2 Cigognes, stationed at the Luxeuil air base in eastern France. Yet withdrawing aircraft from this squadron to give to Kyiv would amount to ending the unit. Another option, discussed by experts, would therefore be to send Ukraine the Mirage 2000-5s that are currently in the hands of Qatar, which has been trying to sell them to Indonesia for several years. In February, Jakarta unexpectedly backed down from purchasing the 12 aircraft, valued at around €700 million.

Pilots to be ‘trained in France’

Mirage 2000-5s are the French air force’s oldest fighter aircraft, alongside Mirage 2000-Ds, which Kyiv has also been requesting. They have been scheduled for replacement by 2029. Nevertheless, they are still very much in use, notably in Djibouti, where the aircraft have been permanently based as part of a defense agreement on policing the skies over the Horn of Africa. In March, some of these aircraft were deployed to intercept Houthi drones in the Red Sea.

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