Operating a fleet of around 100 1960s-era Dassault Mirages III/Vs means the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is challenged to keep them airworthy. Fortunately, in 1978, just a decade after buying its initial batch of 24 Mirage IIIEP, DP and RPs the PAF leadership had set up its Mirage Rebuild Factory.
Today, the facility has worked on 350Mirages and 2,280 ATAR 09C engines which power the French delta-winged jet. In addition, there has been the recovery of 19 structurally damaged aircraft, upgrade of 36 retired ex-Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Mirage IIIs to the Retrofit of Strike Element (ROSE1) version and modernisation of 14 Mirage VEFs with the ROSE III. When the aircraft were more recently modernised with air-to-air refuelling systems, it was the MRF which integrated the Mirage Pressurised Refuelling (MPR) into the jets.
Right from the outset, the PAF wanted to overhaul its Mirage fleet in Pakistan. Sending them back to France was costly and lengthy too – with the aircraft being out of service for 18 months. Time, it could not afford while tension with its old foe, India existed.
Work to set up the factory Initially known as Project-741, was given the green light in March 1974. All 24 Mirage IIIEP, DP and RPs purchased in1967 would require an overhaul in 1975, approximately nine years after their manufacture. By then 28 brand new Mirage VPAs had also been delivered and the plan was to overhaul all the Mirage IIIs by 1978, then the Mirage Vs. Facilities to work on the ‘Delta’, their components and ATAR 09C engines were put in place. On May 3, 1978 the first Mirage IIIEP, 67-101(later named ‘Old Baba’) was flown to Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra, by Wing Commander Saeed Anwar, who ironically went on to become the PAC Kamra director general from 1997 to 1999. Eleven days after the jet arrived, on May 14the MRF was inaugurated within the new factory, commanded by Air Commodore Atta Illahi Sheikh.
On 11 December 1979, 67-101 made its first flight after overhaul and handed back to the PAF on 20 February 1980. A large ceremony that day, saw the President of Pakistan, the late General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq thank all those concerned for their tireless work in setting up the rebuild factory within such a short time. By 1987, all the original PAF Mirages had been overhauled.
Aircraft accidents, eventually led to a Fuselage Structural Repair Facility being built. After Mirage V 70-415 was involved in an accident, Dassault was approached for a damage assessment and then repair of the jet. A fuselage repair jig was subsequently ordered which in May 1989, was installed in the original production hangar built in 1978, that was standing idle. The high cost of repairing one of these aircraft abroad coupled with a long lead in time, saw the Structures Wing repairing aircraft within months. To date, 19 PAF Mirages – a squadron strength, has been recovered at a minimal cost.
In 1980, a Wing Refurbishing Facility was set up from equipment acquired from Australia under Blue Flash V programme and was soon joined by a ‘lifting and turning jig’ and a wing repair jig. The investment made in this equipment in the 1990s has led to millions of dollars of savings being made over the intervening years. One of the major issues with the Mirage these days is the wings, but this department is helping to combat that issue.
The WRF has repaired 19 Mirages over the years, and has helped to increase the Mirage fleet Right now, the PAF is facing problems of cracked ribs in the wings so the WRF is replacing any damaged structures. The wings are regularly monitored with x-rays, and if required personnel open the wings to replace the cracked ribs then close them to provide a new life.