Merci Macron: France will send Mirage 2000 to Ukraine

French President Perfects The Art of Timing

Shankar Narayan
5 min readJun 6, 2024
French Air Force Mirage 2000: Credit US DOD

Politicians need to learn the art of timing from the French President. What a day he chose to make that announcement! France will be sending fighter jets to Ukraine. World leaders and veterans are gathering in France for the 80th anniversary of the D-Day commemorations. Earlier today, Ukrainian President Zelensky landed in France.

Politico reported that President Biden’s team has been working hard to jumpstart his foreign policy arc. If you haven’t noticed, President Biden’s approval rating first tanked after the botched Afghanistan withdrawal executed by his National Security Team. It plummeted and never recovered.

Americans value one thing above all: they want their President to be a winner. Anything less invites trouble. President Biden badly needs a foreign policy reset.

It looks like the French President one-upped him.

In an interview with TF1, President Macron said, “Tomorrow we will launch a new cooperation and announce the transfer of Mirage 2000 jets to help Ukraine protect its skies.”

The French president also said Ukrainians would receive training in France for five to six months as early as this summer, with a target of training 4,500 service personnel.

The timing of the announcement also cuts into the operational space for his opposition in France. How are you supposed to argue against it? As an opposition leader, you want to attack the President. You want to make the case that this move is unnecessary. Then, take the Kremlin line and argue that Macron is pulling France into a war.

And how disastrous it would look if you took that route on the day when the world’s most influential figures are gathering in France to commemorate the moment that turned the tables on the Nazis. You literally can’t. There can only be a muffled response from the opposition leaders. There is exactly a 0% chance that the French opposition will be able to unite and go after President Macron in one voice. That is the only way they can puncture his momentum.

Unfortunately for them, they simply cannot do anything.

They have to take the beating and keep quiet. This move also puts all other world leaders under intense pressure. For years, the chief complaint against France was that they were absent and that there was no substantial value in the kind of aid they have given to Ukraine.

In many ways, the French President’s effort to erase the red lines drawn by Western powers has already rendered those arguments ineffective. I think after today’s announcement, it will be very hard to say anything other than “How long will France will take to deliver the jets?” and “Why not the Rafales?”

France has the following fighter jets. Here’s a breakdown of the two main types currently in service:

1. Rafale

  • Type: Multirole fighter jet
  • Production Start: 1996
  • Cost: Around US$120 million per unit

2. Mirage 2000

  • Type: Multirole fighter jet
  • Production Start: 1978
  • Cost: Around US$30 to $50 million per unit.

Aircraft are like high-end luxury cars. You can order upgrades and practically double the base price of the vehicle. France is sending the Mirage because it is cheaper and sending them to Ukraine does not significantly affect their own air power, as some of these Mirage aircraft will be heading into retirement anyway.

It is not very clear how many Rafales and Mirages are active. Data from Wikipedia indicates that France has 95 Rafales with 117 in the production queue. They also have 65 Mirage 2000D and 26 Mirage 2000–5.

There are three different types of Mirages:

Mirage 2000. Credit: SAC Tim Laurence/MOD
  • Mirage 2000C: Single-seat variant focused on air combat roles.
  • Mirage 2000–5: Developed in the 1990s as an upgrade to Mirage 2000C.
Mirage 2000D. Credit US Airforce
  • Mirage 2000D: Two-seat variant optimized for ground attack and conventional strike missions, where a Weapon Systems Officer assists the pilot in navigation and weapon delivery.
  • Mirage 2000N: Two-seat variant designed for nuclear strike missions. I am sure about this, but I don’t think France will export this variant. They would rather retire this one than give it to someone.

I think it is obvious which aircraft France will give to Ukraine. It has to be the Mirage 2000–5. Sending the other two Mirage variants is unnecessary and will only help the Kremlin spread more nuclear propaganda. Sending the Rafales is not going to happen due to cost and production cycles.

When will Ukraine get them?

Macron said it will be this year, most likely around the end of the year.

“You need normally between five-six months. So by the end of the year there will be pilots. The pilots will be trained in France,” he said.

These are completely different systems from the ones Ukraine has been used to. Pilots must be trained, and ground staff must be trained. Six months is a reasonable estimate.

More than the delivery and the timeline that comes with it, the key for Ukraine will be the fact that they have a pipeline — a pipeline of fighter jets coming their way. Remember the kind of pressure they got themselves into when they started running out of air-defense missiles early this year. It messes with your head to be in that spot.

It’s the same for us. Consider how we behave when we have more than enough in our savings account compared to when we are running month to month. The behaviors are in complete contrast — uncomparable even.

Ukraine will get the F-16s shortly. They will use them and they will get in the line of fire. They will get hit. Ukraine will know that they don’t need to constantly convince people to keep sending more aircrafts to them. I mean, they still have to do that, but they don’t have to do so under intense pressure.

So…

Merci Macron.

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Shankar Narayan

He didn't care what he had or what he had left, he cared only about what he must do.