French Fighters Spent 1986 and ’87 Chasing Libyans Over Chad
Lots of intercepts, no shoot-downs
In mid-February 1986, French forces launched Operation Épervier — France’s intervention in the Libya-Chad war. The French air force deployed to Chad’s capital N’Djamena around a dozen Jaguar A fighter-bombers and up to six Mirage F.1C interceptors from various units along with a few Mirage F.1CR tactical reconnaissance fighters.
The warplanes spent months chasing away Libyan planes and, more than once, came close to shooting them down.
French air-defenses in Chad were also reinforced. The entire 403rd Artillery Regiment, equipped with six triple launchers for U.S.-made MIM-23B I-HAWK missiles and one Crotale missile site protected N’Djamena. Another Crotale site, supported by Stinger-armed teams, deployed to Abéche on Chad’s eastern border.
A battery of six twin 20-millimeter anti-aircraft cannons and two Chadian batteries equipped with 37-millimeter and 40-millimeter anti-aircraft cannons complemented the missiles. The French air force also set up a radar site in Moussoro.
At top — Mirage F.1CR serial number 620 over Chad in 1987. It’s loaded with two R550 Magic 1 air-to-air missiles and a Phimat chaff dispenser pod. Yvon Goutx photo. Above — MiG-25PDS serial number 6716 from No. 1035 Squadron, Libyan air force, intercepted by U.S. Navy fighters on Jan. 26, 1986. Navy photo
Moussoro is close to the so-called “red line” that the French drew to separate Chadian and Libyan forces. In late May 1986, the radar at Moussoro tracked a target moving at 155 miles per hour directly toward the town. When the target was 20 nautical miles away, radar-operator Sgt. Thierry Bourdil called to the Stinger missile section protecting the site to use the missile’s camera to search for the bogey.
At 10 miles, Bourdil authorized the radar site’s defenders to open fire on his command. He suddenly heard on the radio the word “visual.” The Stinger section spotted, seven miles away, an aircraft similar to a Jaguar accelerating and climbing. Confirmed by the radar detector, the jet disappeared to the north at supersonic speed. It was certainly a Libyan MiG-23BN, sent to test the French …
The next day, a radar plot angled toward the radar from the northwest at Mach .7. A pair of French Mirage F.1CRs was in the air nearby, but the pilots confirmed that the target wasn’t them.
Bourdil decided to send the Mirage F.1CRs to intercept the intruder. It would be difficult. The Mirages were too low — and moving perpendicular to the target’s path. The French jets’ radars were not optimized for this kind of intercept. “It was not a lot of fun,” Bourdil says.
Libyan MiG-25R serial number 504, intercepted by the U.S. Navy in August 1981. Navy photo
The Mirages passed west through Moussoro. After a few minutes, the F.1CR pilots announced “unable,” meaning they were at their maximum altitude. At this point, the belligerent began a left turn to the north. That’s when the Mirages cut into the trajectory and finally arrived under the target’s belly.
“Visual, MiG-25,” the pilots announced. One of them even locked his radar and Magic missiles onto the MiG, although the MiG pilot jammed the radar. “Everything was okay” for an engagement, Bourdil recalls, “except that we needed the order from N’Djamena. After using all the codes provided for this purpose, I waited for the green light from [the commander].”
It never came. N’Djamena meanwhile scrambled a pair of Mirage F.1Cs, but they arrived too late to intercept the MiG. During the same year, other clashes of this type took place north of the 16th parallel, with French jets chasing at least one MiG and an Il-76 but again failing to engage.
One year later on June 7, 1987, on the commemoration of Chad’s Liberation Day, local authorities asked the French to send Mirage F.1Cs to escort the presidential plane. A Libyan Il-76 flew into the area to observe — and the Mirage F.1Cs fired a warning shot.
On Sept. 7, 1987, a pair of Mirage F1Cs pursued a Libyan Tu-22 bomber, but were unable to intercept it. A French army I-HAWK shot down the bomber, instead.