For more than 110 years, the French Air Force has been a military mainstay in Europe. From WWI Biplanes and WWII Fighters to the first jet fighters and today’s models, France has long been at the center of aviation innovation. These are 12 of the best French fighter jets of the current age.
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If there is one name that has dominated France’s military jet production, it’s Dassault. All of the jets on this list are products of France’s vaunted aeronautic company. The history of the French Air Force post-WWII can be seen in the history of Dassault fighter jets.
Dassault was founded as the Société des Avions Marcel Bloch in 1929. Bloch, a French Jew and aviation innovator who survived the Nazis and Buchenwald, changed his name to “Dassault” following the war.
The company’s name changed accordingly to Société des Avions Marcel Dassault, giving us “Dassault.”
Dassault has produced most of France’s fighter jets. A large part of Dassault came to be owned by Aerospatiale in 1998, which later merged with Airbus, another leading European aviation company.
In the postwar years, Dassault became one of Europe’s most prominent producers of fighter jets. It is by far France’s most popular military aviation exporter, selling some of the fighters on this list to countries as different as Belgium, Egypt, Israel, and Pakistan.
The French Air Force is the eighth largest in the world, and with a budget of $40 billion, it’s one of the richest.
The following are 12 of the best French fighter jets, current and retired.
1. Dassault Rafale
The French Air Force and Navy both lay claim to the services of this fighter jet, which is one of the most versatile in the French military. It boasts a pair of Snecma M88 engines, each of which can provide 50 Kilonewtons of dry thrust.
Nearly 200 Rafales have been built by Dassault. In addition to the French Air Force, they have been a fixture in the Indian, Egyptian, and Qatari Air Forces, and have been used in military action in Afghanistan and Libya.
2. Dassault Mirage 2000
The Mirage series has long been one of Dassault’s trademark fighters. This is one of the fastest fighters jets in the world.
Several jets have been produced in the Mirage line, including this variant, which was first produced in the 1970s and has remained part of the French Air Force ever since.
The aircraft is produced in both single and two-seat variants. Its Snecma M53 engines produce 84 Kilonewtons’ worth of thrust. France is a nuclear weapons state, and the Dassault Mirage 2000 is capable of carrying out nuclear strikes.
During France’s participation as part of the Coalition against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War, Mirage 2000s were used alongside US aircraft. They were also involved in joint strikes in Syria alongside the US and UK in 2018.
3. Dassault Mirage 2000N/2000D
As the name would imply, these are two related variants of the Dassault Mirage 2000. The Mirage 2000N is dedicated to nuclear strikes, while the Mirage 2000D is a variant designed for conventional engagements.
One hundred and sixty-one total units were manufactured, with 75 Mirage 2000Ns and 86 Mirage 2000Ds produced. While the Mirage 2000N was retired in 2018, the Mirage 2000D remains an active part of the French Air Force.
Mirage 2000Ns were involved in NATO and UN operations during the Yugoslav Wars, with one being shot down by Bosnian Serb separatists on August 30, 1995. They have also been used in anti-ISIS strikes.
4. Dassault Mirage F1
This entry into Dassault’s Mirage line was an outgrowth of the Mirage III line and a predecessor to the Mirage 2000 line, and is largely a retired historical unit now, although they have not been entirely replaced.
The Mirage F1 was designed as an interceptor fighter jet to be used to take on other jets. It built heavily on the design of the Mirage III, though its wings deviate from that.
Mirage F1s were yet another French aircraft that were used in Coalition opposition to Saddam Hussein in Kuwait. Iraq had actually purchased Mirage F1s prior to that, and used them during the Iran-Iraq War.
5. Dassault Mirage G
Yet another entry in the Dassault Mirage line, the Mirage G was a prototype. Only three were ever produced. It was first flown in 1967, and in the 1970s the program was cancelled.
It was nevertheless a valuable step in furthering the Dassault Mirage program, as exemplified by the orders shown above. Another example can be seen in the Mirage F2, which took design cues from the Mirage G.
The Mirage G also lives on in the aerospace museums across France. One may be found in the Musée de l’air et de l’espace in Paris, and another can be seen in the Musée Européen de l’Aviation de Chasse in Montélimar.
6. Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet
This fighter jet is a joint project, the product of both Dassault as well as Dornier, a German aeronautic company. It is designed as a training craft as well as a light fighter jet.
It was produced in the mid-70s, with 480 total being made. In addition to the French Air Force, the Alpha Jet has seen service in the French, Portuguese, Thai, Belgian, and Cameroonian air forces.
The vast majority of this craft’s service life has been as a training jet. It has also served as the fighter jet of choice for the Patrouille de France, the French Air Force’s aerobatic team.
7. Dassault Étendard IV
This is a historic fighter jet, having been retired by the French military in 2000. That said, it has plenty of history to its name, being produced in the 1950s and being the first French-built jet to be aircraft carrier-compatible.
The Étendard IV was designed to be a naval strike aircraft. In addition, it was capable of being used as a reconnaissance plane. The Étendard IV was also capable of reaching transonic speeds.
It was gradually phased out in favor of its eventual successor, the Étendard IV. Nevertheless, for decades it was a fixture on the decks of Clemenceau-class aircraft carriers across the French Navy.
8. Dassault Ouragan
This is another historic entry into this list. First produced way back in 1954, the Ouragan was a combination fighter-bomber. Its service in the French Air Force was short-lived, and it was largely replaced by the end of the decade.
That does not mean that it did not have an extensive service history elsewhere, however. Nearly 600 were produced, with the El Salvadorian, Israeli, and Indian militaries all purchasing the aircraft.
Israel in particular made great use of the Dassault Ouragan. The Israeli Air Force’s effective responses were critical factors in Israel’s victories in the Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars, with the Dassault Ouragan active in each engagement.
9. Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard
This is another example of a fighter jet introduced to the French Armed Forces in the 1970s with a service record that extends far after that, though it was officially retired in 2016.
In between that time, the French military has repeatedly used it in engagements in the Middle East. For example, Super Étendards were used to respond to a terrorist attack in Beirut in 1983.
Super Étendards were also used as regular parts of the allied forces taking part in military operations in Afghanistan following 9/11 as well as 2011 military engagements during the Libyan Civil War.
10. Dassault Super Mystère
This fighter jet was produced from 1951 to 1957, the first Super Mystères were derived from the Ouragans. A key design change for the Super Mystère was the introduction of swept wings.
Several prototypes were produced, with the Super Mystère going through a lengthy production cycle overall. The craft can, thus, be seen as a key transition from the earlier Ouragans to the next generation of French fighter jets.
That next generation would be embodied in its successor. Where the Super Mystère did not see sale abroad, countries such as Israel would buy its successor, the Mystère IV, described below.
11. Dassault Mystère IV
As the name would imply, this is a variant of the Dassault Mystère line that was first developed in the late 1950s. Four hundred and eleven were built, with Israel, as mentioned above, being a major customer.
The Mystère IV was employed in the 1956 border tensions between Israel and Egypt along the Sinai Peninsula. The craft were used for both air to ground as well as air to air combat missions.
The Mystère IV played a key role in Israel’s air superiority and eventual victory in the Six Day War. They engaged in air to ground battle as well as aerial combat with Soviet-made MiG Egyptian aircraft.
12. Dassault Future Combat Air System
Let’s conclude our look at French fighter jets by taking a look at the far future. While the Rafale and Mirage 2000s are used today, the Future Combat Air System is being designed with the intention of replacing them in the 2030s or 40s.
It is intended to be a sixth-generation fighter. France is not the only country interested in developing these hypothetical fighters, with Germany and France likewise intrigued by the project’s value.
Given how far into the future that is, details on the new fighter are scarce, with only a few mockups being made so far. The very concept, however, shows that the link between Dassault and French military aviation is sure to continue.