On a rather untypically grey afternoon in June, a 332 Squadron Mirage 2000EG heads towards the 'Last Chance Checkpoint'
A single-seat Mirage 2000-5 from 331 Squadron powers out of Tanagra's Runway 28
As you drive through the main gate at Tanagra Air Base, two things greet you; The first is a silver, pole-mounted F-104G Starfighter, the second is a sign that confirms you have arrived at Tanagra, the home of 114 Combat Wing. Located on the eastern part of the Greek mainland in the municipality of Boeotia, some 20km south of Chalkida (also known as Chaklis), 114 Pteriga Makhis (114PM/114 Combat Wing) is administered under the auspices of the Hellenic Tactical Air Force (HTAF). Approximately 60km north of the capital city of Athens, 114 Combat Wing (114CW) is at the centre of the Hellenic FIR (Flight Information Region) and thus is a crucial element of the Greek National Air Defence establishment. 114 Combat Wing's mission is to respond immediately and effectively to any challenge or threat on a 24 hour basis, 365 days of the year, ready to fulfil both its national and allied commitments.
The ground crew complete their final checks prior to #210 flying an afternoon mission on 7th June 2016
Note the 'TLP 2014-5' (Tactical Leadership Programme) markings on the aircraft's under-belly fuel tank
331 Mira operates five twin-seat Mirage 2000-5BG aircraft
One of them is seen above, outside the squadron's maintenance hangar at Tanagra
An upgrade for 331 Squadron's aging fleet of Mirage 2000s has been muted for sometime
However the huge cost involved and the current economic crisis has seen this once again put on hold
332 Mira Pantos Kerou (332 MPK) 'Geraki' was formed on 11th August 1989 at Tanagra as the second Mirage 2000EG/BG squadron, with the first of 14 Mirage 2000s (10 single-seat, four two-seat) commencing delivery to the squadron on 1st November the same year. The first pilots assigned to the squadron all had previous experience flying the older Dassault Mirage F-1CG or McDonnell F-4E Phantom II aircraft and had undergone their Mirage 2000 conversion training with 331 MPK, who had transitioned to the type a year earlier. The Mirage 2000EG/BG in service with the HAF is a variant of the French operated 2000C/B aircraft. The squadron reached full operational status with the Mirage 2000 on the 15th July 1990.
#210 speeds along the northern taxiway at Tanagra for an afternoon mission
The aircraft is part of a four-ship sortie from 332 Mira
Operations by the two squadrons at Tanagra are conducted autonomously from one another. Whilst all operations are flown from shelter areas, 331 Squadron have their operations located at the eastern end of the airfield, with 332 Squadron located at the western end. Both squadrons also use different locations at the base as 'Last Chance Checkpoints', 331 Squadron's being located between the southern taxiway and the main runway, with 332 Squadron's being located along the northern taxiway. Both of the squadrons also have their own maintenance hangars and conduct all of the necessary work required to keep the aircraft serviceable, other than PDM (Programmed Depot Maintenance), whereupon the aircraft would be towed across the tarmac to the Hellenic Aerospace facility on the eastern side of the airfield.
Dassault Mirage 2000 The Hellenic Air Force currently operates two versions of Dassault's Mirage 2000 fighter, the 2000EG/BG (single and two-seat variants) and the 2000-5 (again in single and two-seat variants). The main differences between the two types are that the 2000EG/BG has the Thomson-CSF RDM radar, whereas the 2000-5 has the more advanced Thales RDY-2 multi-mode pulse doppler radar; the 2000EG/BG has an analogue cockpit against the 2000-5s 'glass cockpit', the 2000EG/BG has a mechanical ULISS Inertial Navigation System (INS) against the 2000-5s Thales TOTEM 3000 laser gyro, plus the 2000-5 has a more advanced Modular Data Processing Unit (MDPU) and a more advanced Thales Integrated Countermeasures System (ICMS).
Due to the continuing tensions around the Aegean between Greece and Turkey, front line air bases keep a high state of readiness 24 hours a day. Both of Tanagra's squadrons have two aircraft each on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duties, at a five minute state of readiness. Maintaining a constant QRA commitment utilises a lot of resources, far more than most of its NATO partners and so, the HAF's readiness levels are very high, and I have experienced this first hand. With no pre-flight briefings, live weapons and not knowing how the adversary is going to behave can lead to very dangerous situations. The safety of the pilots is paramount and you only have to look at previous incidents to see what can happen when things become a little tense and unpredictable.
114 Pteriga Makhis
'Mirages over the Aegean'
Last chance checkpoint of 331 Sqn at Tanagra, with three 2000-5EG and one 2000-5BG awaiting the all clear
Having returned from a mission, aircraft #239 gets refuelled and checked over by the ground crew
Along with the F-16C/D Block 52+, the Mirage 2000-5s are the most modern fighters in HAF service and with no new fighter aircraft likely to be procured in the short-term, the HAF are contemplating the future of the Mirage 2000 fleet, particularly the older 2000EG/BG fleet, which is now 25+ years old. Plans were announced in June 2014 to upgrade the remaining 2000EG/BG Mirages to 2000-5 standard, thus bringing 332 MPK in line with its sister squadron, but as yet the contract to complete the upgrades has not yet actually been signed and we were told off the record that, 'the French wanted too much money to complete it'. In the meantime, the personnel of 114CW keep the fleet of aircraft fully operational and continue to maintain the highest level of professionalism. Despite the harsh economic situation that continues in Greece, with the associated personal hardships that many endure, the Hellenic Air Force and its personnel continue to provide a high standard of professionalism and also a good level of aircraft availability within the Mirage fleet.
Both 331 and 332 Squadrons operate from Hardened Aircraft Shelters, albeit autonomously from one another
331 Mira Pantos Kerou (331 MPK/All-Weather Squadron) 'Thiseus' was formed on the 18th of April 1988, to coincide with the acceptance of the 40 new Dassault Mirage 2000EG/BG aircraft purchased by the Hellenic Air Force (36 single-seat and four two-seat Mirage 2000s were initially ordered to equip two squadrons at Tanagra). The first Mirage 2000 landed at Tanagra just over a week later on the 27th April 1988, with training from French instructor pilots beginning almost immediately. In a relatively short space of time the squadron was manned by experienced pilots selected from a variety of HAF squadrons, and became operational as an all-weather fighter interceptor unit within six months of its formation.
We would like to thank the following for their assistance in completing this article;
Caroline Makropoulos (British FCO, Athens)
Capt. Richard Blackwell (British FCO, Defence Attaché, Athens)
Colonel Athanasios Ganas (Commander, 114 Combat Wing)
Final checks complete and given the all clear to go, #210 roars down Runway 28 on the afternoon of 7th June 2016
The Mirage 2000 has nine weapons hard-points; five on the fuselage and two on each wing. The single-seat version is equipped with a pair of DEFA 30mm cannons as standard, the original 2000EG/BG aircraft being supplied with the Matra R-550 Magic II air-to-air missile. Upgrading later with the Integrated Conflict Management System (ICMS) for enhanced self-protection in 1996, in 1999 the aircraft's capability took a further step forward when the MBDA AM-39 Exocet missile was added to the aircraft’s inventory, for use in the anti-shipping role. However the HAF later decided not to continue use of the Exocet in conjunction with the Mirage 2000-5, and it is now only used by the 2000EG/BG aircraft of 332 MPK. MBDA's advanced air-to-air missile, the MICA, was also introduced in both radar-guided (EM) and IR-guided versions (IR) to the 2000-5. The MICA is a multi-target, all weather, fire and forget, BVR missile. The Mirage 2000 can also be equipped to carry a range of air-to-surface weapons, including laser-guided bombs and the MBDA Scalp EG stand-off cruise missile.
The Mirage 2000-5 incorporates advanced avionics, new multiple target air-to-ground and air-to-air firing procedures using the RDY (Radar Doppler Multi-target) radar with new sensor and control systems. The RDY radar provides a multi-targeting capability in the air defence role and also has a look down/shoot down capability, which can simultaneously detect up to 24 targets and carry out track-while-scan on the eight highest priority threats.
The Mirage 2000 is powered by a single SNECMA M53-P2 turbofan engine, delivering 14,500lb of 'dry' thrust and 21,385lb in full re-heat, giving the aircraft Mach 2.2 performance at 50,000 feet. The Mirage 2000-5 has hands-on throttle and stick (HOTAS) controls and incorporates the Thales VEH 3020 head-up display (HUD) and has five cathode-ray multi-function advanced pilot systems interface (APSI) displays. Sensor and system management data is presented to the pilot on two coloured lateral displays.
Another new type arrived at Tanagra in 1969, when 342 Sqn returned to the Wing. Equipped with the Convair F-102A Delta Dart, 342 Sqn continued to operate the type until 4th August 1975, when it re-equipped with the advanced and more capable Dassault Mirage F-1CG, at the same time changing from its fighter-bomber role to the all-weather interceptor role. The final F-102 Delta Darts left Tanagra early in 1977, with 334 Sqn re-equipping with the Mirage F-1CG in May of the same year. In 1977, 335 Sqn moved to Araxos, taking the last F-104 Starfighters with it.
Bringing things into the modern era, 331 Squadron was formed and equipped with the Dassault Mirage 2000EG/BG from April 1988 onwards, with 332 Squadron forming just over a year later, also equipped with the Mirage 2000. On June 30th 2003, the Mirage F-1CG aircraft were retired after 28 years of continuous service and 342 Squadron was disbanded. The final piece in the jigsaw occurred in 2007, when 331 Squadron started re-equipping with the Mirage 2000-5.
#239 slowly turns onto the taxiway to head for the 'Last Chance Checkpoint' on the afternoon of 7th June
The raw power of the SNECMA M53-P2 turbofan engine in full afterburner is clearly evident in the photo above
Distinguishable by the lack of a pitot tube on the nose cone, the 2000-5 also has 'RDY' marked on it,
confirming the more advanced radar fitted to the -5 version of the Mirage 2000
#239's tailfin has different designs each side of the aircraft
The starboard side is a take on 332 Sqn's unit crest and the port side is an illustration of the Archangel Michael
Whilst the aircraft gets refuelled, the 'groundies' inspect the aircraft using a high-density beam flashlight
The Mirage 2000 is an impressive aircraft, particularly when in full afterburner
332 Squadron have this beautifully marked Mirage 2000EG
The aircraft is seen here having just emerged from its protective shelter
Situated within 30-40 kilometres of Tanagra are no less than four training areas, which are ideal for the pilots of 114CW to hone their skills. With Greece having a number of different fighter aircraft in its inventory, it gives the crews the opportunity to maintain a high level of combat readiness and practice their air warfare techniques. The inventory of different combat aircraft in service gives the HAF also offers an unique capability to organise its own DACT exercises, pitting different types such as the Mirage 2000, F-4 Phantom and F-16 against one another. Pilots will initially train in Basic Fighter Manoeuvres (BFM) and Air Combat Tactics (ACT), which includes interceptions with Beyond Visual Range (BVR) weapons. Tactical training includes low-level operations in Combat Profile Missions (CPM), after which the crews move onto more complex training exercises with 3-4 aircraft involved, starting with three aircraft of the same type in Air Combat Manoeuvres (ACM), then moving onto DACT missions once the pilot has gained more experience.
A 331 Squadron Mirage 2000-5EG heads back to the shelter area after a morning mission on 6th June 2016
Operations for both 331 and 332 Squadron are conducted from an array of Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) on the airfield
114 Pteriga Makhis first formed on 22nd August, 1956 at Tanagra, under the auspices of 28 Tactical Air Command. Formed with 341, 342 and 343 Interceptor Squadrons, equipped with the North American F-86E Sabre aircraft, coinciding with the transfer of the squadrons from Elefsis, the 2nd Aerobatic Flight also formed as an integral part of 341 Squadron, performing displays as the 'Hellenic Flame' aerobatic team.
In May 1958, 343 Sqn transferred to 111 Combat Wing at Nea Anchialos, and on 14th January 1960, 341 Sqn also transferred to 111 CW at Nea Anchialos, being replaced at Tanagra on 18th May by 335 Sqn, equipped with the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak. June 1962 saw the last of the three initial squadrons at Tanagra also transfer to Nea Anchialos, when 342 Sqn followed 341 and 343 to 111 Combat Wing.
A 'new dawn' appeared in April 1964, when the much more advanced Lockheed F-104G Starfighter arrived at Tanagra to equip 335 Squadron. In January 1965, 336 Fighter Squadron was integrated into 114CW, also equipped with the Starfighter (later moving out to 116 CW at Araxos in December 1966).
Tanagra is unique in that it is the only Hellenic Air Force (HAF) base to operate the French-built Dassault Mirage 2000 interceptor. The Mirage 2000 is in service with two squadrons at Tanagra, the older jets having now seen active duty for almost 30 years. With Greece's long-standing financial crisis having had major implications on the country's defence procurement in recent years, with modernisation and the upgrading of aircraft becoming the norm, rather than the purchasing of new aircraft so as to overcome the issue of obsolescence, the Mirage has not been imune from this. The original Mirage 2000s purchased back in 1988 have been slated for upgrade to 2000-5 standard for a number of years, but despite the fact that funds have not been forthcoming to date, the aircraft still form a formidable and potent deterrent. Once again the HAF Chiefs of Staff gave Jetwash Aviation Photos unbridled access, as we embedded ourselves in with the wing to report on another of the Hellenic Air Force's major tactical air bases.
Quick Reaction Alert (QRA); Mixed fighter formations and Combined Air Operations (COMAO) with the use of 'live' weapons teaches the pilots at Tanagra about the strengths and weaknesses of different aircraft. The Mirage 2000-5 is seen as the ultimate air-to-air interceptor in Hellenic Air Force service, and the pilots of 114CW see themselves as the elite. Whilst the F-16 Block 52+ is the most modern aircraft in the Greek inventory and most certainly a very agile and potent opponent in a dogfight, the Mirage 2000's outstanding agility probably give it a slight edge. The advantages that Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) provides for the 114CW pilots is paramount, not only for its role as a major protector of NATO's southern flank, but also in its role of policing Greek airspace. As is well documented, the on-going dispute between the Greek and Turkish governments over the airspace around the Aegean islands leads to a large number of incursions into Greek skies each year. The Greek government maintains a 10-mile radius around the islands, whilst the Turkish government disputes this and only recognises a 6-mile perimeter. Inevitably, this results in frequent confrontations, with recent data recorded by the Greek military showing a peak of 2,244 violations during 2014. Although this number seems to have reduced somewhat in 2015, it is still expected to reach 1,500-2,000 by year end (no data is currently available).
Having flown a mission in the morning, aircraft #534 of 331Sqn gets some attention before the afternoon sorties are flown
The ground crew are seen here about to perform a tyre change on the main starboard side undercarriage
'Warning, Aircraft Armed'
One of Tanagra's QRA jets nestled inside its shelter, awaiting the call to action
In the current era almost all incursions are made by F-16 Fighting Falcons operated by the Turkish Air Force, an aircraft which is also operated by the HAF. The ability to fly DACT against the F-16s of the various wings operating the Fighting Falcon within the HAF, gives the 114CW pilots a distinct advantage when encountering their 'foe' on QRA interceptions. Like many other combat wings of the HAF, the two squadrons at Tanagra also deploy two aircraft along with 3 or 4 pilots on a TDY (Temporary Duty) basis to ensure total coverage of Greek airspace. 114 Combat Wing's TDY is conducted on the small island of Skyros, under the auspices of 135 Combat Group, and forms part of the country's on-going security coverage over the Aegean Sea. The standard weapons-fit for the QRA jets at Tanagra consists of two MICA-IR missiles (above right) and two MICA-EMs (above left), missiles only used by the Mirage 2000s within the HAF.
The ground crew signal the pilot to bring the aircraft to a halt at the 'Last Chance'
The HAF later ordered 15 of the more advanced Mirage 2000-5s to equip 331MPK, with ten of the existing Mirage 2000EGs also being upgraded to 2000-5 standard by Hellenic Aerospace Industry S.A (these aircraft are known as 2000-5EGMs). On the 1st March 2007, 331 Squadron suspended its operations with the Mirage 2000EG/BG in preparation of receiving the updated Mirage 2000-5 variant of Dassault's delta-wing fighter, with the first of the new aircraft being handed over on 3rd May 2007, and all of the 2000-5s delivered by November of the same year, aircraft #555 being the last ever Mirage 2000 delivered off of the production line. Operating primarily in the air defence role, 331MPK also has a secondary ground attack role utilising the MBDA Scalp EG, long-range stand-off missile. In the air defence role, the 2000-5s use the French-built MICA beyond visual range (BVR) missile, two types of which are in service, the MICA-IR and the MICA-EM.
Since its introduction, 332 MPK has continued to fly alert and interception missions above the Aegean Sea, alongside its secondary role of naval interdiction, utilising the AM-39 Exocet anti-ship missile (332 MPK took over the anti-shipping role from 331 MPK on 1st March 2007). 331 Mira also provides type conversion for pilots destined for the Mirage 2000 who have graduated from 120 PEA at Kalamata Air Base, where they flew the Rockwell T-2 Buckeye.
With the introduction of the more modern Mirage 2000-5 variant in 2007 to 331 MPK, 332 MPK became the sole operator of the 2000EG/BG in HAF service, with the two squadrons at Tanagra continuing to operate separate variants to this day. Unlike the 331 Mira aircraft, the older aircraft flown by 332 Mira, of which 20 still remain in service, continue to utilise the Magic R-550 Magic II air to missile in the air defence role. It has long been suggested that the Mirage 2000s of 332 Squadron may receive the Thales ASTAC tactical electronic reconnaissance system currently used on the dwindling fleet of RF-4E Phantoms, a small upgrade to the Mirage fleet being required for this to happen. Further upgrade work muted could also see the addition of a Garmin GPS (global positioning system) and a new head-down display, but as yet nothing has been forthcoming.
The HAF took delivery of its original Mirage 2000EG (single-seat) and Mirage 2000BG (two-seat) in 1988, with an order for 36 and 4 aircraft respectively. The aircraft were delivered to 331 Squadron at Tanagra from 18th April 1988 onwards, with 332 Squadron receiving their first aircraft just over a year later in November 1989. In 2000, Greece purchased 15 Mirage 2000-5 Mk.2s and upgraded ten of the original Mirage 2000EG/BG to a similar standard. The first 2000-5 aircraft entered service with the HAF in September 2007, with deliveries concluding in November 2007.