Denel hopes Ecuador Cheetah buy will be complete by year-end

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Denel Aviation hopes the sale of a dozen Cheetah fighter aircraft to Ecuador for what is still an undisclosed amount will be concluded by years’ end.

Ecuador, a country in western South America, is keen to purchase up to 12 of the fighter aircraft retired by the South African Air Force (SAAF) in April last year.

With regard to the timeline the company says there is no specified date, “but it should be concluded by the end of the year.”

The SAAF in 2003 operated 28 single-seat C-models and 10 two-seat D`s. By 2005 the total for both types was 29. About that number retired in early 2008 to free funds for the Saab Gripen C and D advanced light fighter aircraft.

It is said about 26 of the upgraded Dassault Mirage III fighters remain available for resale along with several more airframes and spares.

Sales of surplus military-owned equipment is done through the Department of Defence’s Armscor acquisition agency’s defence materiel disposal division.

Denel Aviation says the deal is for a combination of both the Cheetah C and D, “the number of each will be verified on completion of the deal.”

CE Ismail Dockrat this week confirmed reports that his company was supporting a sales bid in the Latin A
merican state.

Denel earlier this week said the Ecuadorian Air Force (FAE) need to replace obsolete supersonic aircraft – “as recently reported by the Ecuadorian daily, El Universo.”

The FAE currently operates a mixed fleet of 12 Dassault Mirage F1JE and one F1BJ fighters as well as 13 Israeli Kfir fighters of various marks, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies’ 2009 edition of the Military Balance.

Reports suggest the Cheetah will replace the F1 and serve alongside the Kfir.

Dockrat says “Denel Aviation is highly encouraged by the recent developments” that follows a visit to South Africa by an FAE team in April this year to view a number of theaircraft.

“Denel Aviation was involved with the structured phase out of the Cheetah logistic support system within industry and witnessed the packaging of the systems and equipment for storage pending a possible sale.

“Denel Aviation was the prime contractor in the development of the Cheetah, a variant of the Mirage III, in the mid 1980`s and holds the design authority for, and the maintenance expertise on the Cheetah.

“The visiting team were exposed to all the information to assure themselves of the operational potential and the logistic status of the aircraft,” Dockrat said.

The negotiation process necessitated a visit by Denel Aviation team to Ecuador during August where further discussions took place concerning the offer.

“We were excited to learn that our submission received favour and placed us in a position of preferred supplier in comparison to the submissions by our contenders” added Dockrat.

The SA offer includes the supply of the aircraft as well as a complete five year maintenance and support package which may be renewable should further support be required.

Complete maintenance and acceptance flight testing will be conducted in South Africa and in Ecuador once the deal is finalised later this year.

While on the visit to Ecuador, Denel Aviation undertook a tour of their facilities to monitor the infrastructure and technical capability of FAE to evaluate the level of support required and identify need for further training.

Interaction to ensure clarification and to provide additional information has been ongoing until the end of August 2009.

“This is a huge business opportunity for us and we are thrilled by it as its success will have a positive impact not only for Denel Aviation but for other local industry players involved in the Cheetah aircraft support” adds Dockrat who is confident that this will result in spin-off business for the SA aerospace industry and will positively contribute to the broader economic growth in the country.

He notes Denel Aviation has an accumulation of 40 years of skills, expertise and business know-how in performing maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) work on Mirage type aircraft.

“With this expertise, we are geared for the challenge and we see this as a platform to showcase Africa`s MRO capability to the rest of the world”, he says.

The draft Guide to the SANDF notes 38 C-models, 16 D-models and 16 E-variants remanufactured from 1983 under SAAF projects Bark, Brahman, Carver, Cushion, Kiemvry, Recipient and Tunny.

The Cheetah is essentially a remanufactured and upgraded Dassault Mirage III.

South African airframes were used for the D and E range and Israeli Mirage III airframes for the C-model.

The first aircraft to be converted was a Mirage III D2Z (airframe number 845) from April 1983. It is not known publicly when its conversion was completed, but when the type was officially unveiled to the public on July 16, 1986, the type was already in service with 89 Combat Flying School, although it was only declared operational the next year. In order to bring the airframes back to “zero hours” flown, some 50% of components were replaced.

Non-moving canards were added just aft of the air intake, as were more hard points, a aerial refueling probe, a new ejection chair and the SNECMA 9K50 engine.

Also fitted was a new main wingspar, a “drooping” leading edge and a dog-tooth incision on each main wing.

Improvements were also made to the avionics, radar, electronic warfare and self-protection systems, including a modern pulse doppler radar.

Ten aircraft were upgraded to fire the V4 (Denel R Darter) beyond visual range missile and two to drop laser-guided bombs.

Denel did not answer a question regarding the marketing of the remaining platforms.



Pic: A Cheetah C from 2 Squadron  shadowing a SAAF C130BZ near AFB Makhado in this 2006 file photograph.