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SA fighter could soar in South American skies

Date: 25 September 2009

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By Keith Campbell  

The South American country of Ecuador is negotiating with South Africa to buy 12 Denel Cheetah C single-seat fighters, retired from South African Air Force (SAAF) service. This has been confirmed by Ecuadorian Defence Minister Javier Ponce.

Ecuador has, in principle, decided to acquire the Cheetahs, but an actual purchase depends on the outcome of the financial negotiations, which will start in December. Ecuador has budgeted an initial $35-million for this programme, but expects the total costs to be higher.

According to an Ecuadorian press report, representatives of Denel offered Cheetahs to Ecuador on August 26, while visiting the Ecuadorean Air Force's Cotopaxi Air Base.

Ecuador is seeking to modernise its fighter force at minimum cost, and reportedly South Africa is offering the Cheetahs at lower prices than Chile and Spain are seeking for fighters that are now surplus to their requirements.

Indeed, the prices sought by Chile and Spain exceed the fighter acquisition budget available to the Ecuadorian Air Force.

Further, the Cheetahs have quite modern avionics systems, apparently equivalent to those of the modernised Israel Aircraft Industries Kfir CE fighters already operated by Ecuador. The Cheetahs would be operated alongside the Kfirs.

The South African fighters, highly modernised Dassault Mirage IIICs originally bought from France, would most likely replace Ecuador's current force of Dassault F1 fighters (a type once also operated by South Africa and replaced in SAAF service by the Cheetah), and perhaps its Sepecat Jaguar fighter-bombers.

It is not known if Ecuador will also see to acquire South African weapons to go with the Cheetah fighters.

Venezuela has offered to transfer to Ecuador, free of charge, six Mirage 50 fighters. But these are themselves obsolete and would not represent any modernisation of the Ecuadorian fighter fleet. Indeed, they are actually more obsolete than the Mirage F1s Ecuador seeks to replace.

In recent years, most major South American countries have launched programmes to modernise their fighter forces.

For example, Venezuela has bought Sukhoi SU-30MKV fighters from Russia, and Chile has purchased both new and second-hand examples of American Lockheed Martin F-16, while Brazil is expected to chose its next fighter type with a matter of weeks.

The Cheetahs were retired by the SAAF last year, in anticipation of the arrival of new Saab Gripen fighters, which are now being delivered.

Denel previously offered Cheetahs to Brazil, as a interim fighter to temporarily replace that country's Mirage IIIEs, which had reached the end of their lives. But, Brazil selected second-hand Dassault Mirage 2000Bs and Cs instead.

Source: Engineering News


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