The 2007 Paris Air Show gave Astrac (Association Sagem Thales pour
la Rénovation d'Avions de Combat) — the joint-venture created in November 2005, at the French Ministry of Defence's request, by Thales and Sagem Défense Sécurité (SAFRAN) — an opportunity to show what the new company is all about: high-level all-round upgrade refurbishing of third generation fighters.
Capitalizing on the current Royal Air Forces of Morocco’s program for the modernisation of its entire Mirage F1 fleet (a total of 27 remaining Mirage F1CH and EH), Astrac exhibited a complete offer, including two central computers, SIGMA-type GPS-hybrid navigation systems (both developed by Sagem Défense Sécurité), MICA EM and IR air-to-air missiles provided by MBDA. For this retrofitting solution, Thales is contributing with a RDY-3 (or RC 400) 2D multi-function radar, a Damocles day/night laser designation pod, a PAJ FA type pod for electronic warfare self-protection and a CATS 150 radar Warning Receiver (RWR). The different units interface via a 1553 bus.
For the air-to-air mission, the multi-function/multi-target radar can be used to fire MICA and Magic 2 missiles. To meet air-to-ground mission requirements, Astrac offers Sagem Défense Sécurité’s stand-off AASM air-to-ground modular weapon supported by a mission preparation system by Sagem Défense Sécurité and a debriefing systems from Thales. The weapon can be complemented at will by laser guided weapons using the Damocles laser designation pod.
The Astrac offer, which is compatible with NVGs, also includes a 'zero-zero' ejection seat and a latest-generation glass cockpit MMI with Hands on Thottle and Shift (HOTAS) controls. As an option, the system can also be complemented by a system for deploying anti-ship weapons, such as MBDA’s Exocet AM 39.
Ideal for air forces facing strong budget constraints, the Astrac modernising solution offers a real added value to a fighter-bomber like the Mirage F1, an aircraft which is still in operational with some ten air arms where it provides good service thanks to the reliability of its single Snecma Atar 9K50 turbojet.
Morocco awarded France a contract worth around €350 million
(US$420 million) two years ago to overhaul the Moroccan Air Force's mixed
fleet of 27 Mirage F1CH/EH fighter aircraft. The
contract, signed during a visit by former French Prime Minister
Dominique de Villepin to Rabat on 26-27 September 2005, involves
renovating the airframes and avionic suite of the aircraft
delivered to the Sherifian kingdom in the late 1980s by Dassault Aviation. Rabat decided to renovate the aircraft instead of buying surplus US F-16
multi-role fighters offerred at low-coast by the USA. The € 350 million package includes around € 100
million for armament for the renovated Mirage F1s. These will be MICA
air-to-air missiles made by MBDA as well as Sagem's new AASM 250 kg rocket bombs.
Thales and Sagem had previously vied against one another for the
contract but were asked by the French government to combine their
efforts in a joint venture, thus Astrac. The Royal Moroccan Air Force Mirage F1s, now dubbed Mirage F1M, represent the most modern modernisation programme ever grafted to this French-designed combat aircraft.
Sold in about 740 copies to eleven different countries, the Mirage F1 is still in operational service today in Ecuador, France, Jordan, Libya, Spain and Morocco. A batch of those once belonging to South Africa (Mirage F1AZ) have meanwhile been sold to Gabon, about a dozen of Iraq's Mirage F1EQs 'given' by Saddam Hussein to Iran while those of Kuwait are stored and those of Qatar sold to Spain. Greece's Elleniki Polemiki Aeroporia's last Mirage F1s were retired two years ago and replaced by Mirage 2000-5 Mk.2s, the final batch of which is now being delivered by Dassault-Aviation, thus marking the end of production for the Mirage 2000 too. A likely sale of former French Air Force Mirage F1CTs to Colombia is now in the funnel. No information on this deal is available, although the number of aircraft involved would be around a dozen.
So far, only the Mirage F1s of the Spanish Air Force have been fully modernised by Thales and EADS to an extent certainly not comparable with the Astrac endeavour however. Meanwhile about a dozen long stored Libyan Air Force Mirage F1s are due to be refurbished by Dassault-Aviation. Therefore, the modernisation market for the Mirage F1 is still very open. [Paris-06-25-2007]