Denel Aviation has sold 12 Cheetah C and D supersonic fighter aircraft to Ecuador. The contract was recently signed by Denel Aviation CE Mike Kgobe in the capital city Quito. No value was disclosed for the deal.
Denel Aviation is the design authority of the Cheetah single-seat fighter that was locally developed with Israeli assistance from 1983. The aircraft is a variant of the Mirage III, with improved aerodynamics and superior avionics, radar and weapon systems. In terms of the agreement with the Ecuadorian Air Force, Denel Aviation will continue to provide a comprehensive maintenance and support service for at least five years following the sale, with an option for renewal.
It was reported in September last year that Ecuador was seeking to purchase up to 12 C and D aircraft. Thirty-eight C-models, 16 D-models and 16 E-variants were remanufactured. South African airframes were used for the D and E range and Israeli 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.
The Cheetah was prematurely retired in April 2008 to free funds to bring its successor, the SAAB Gripen advanced light fighter aircraft into service. The Cheetah system was originaly only to be phased out once all the Gripen had been delivered in 2012. Nine dual-seat and seventeen single-seat Saab Gripen fighter aircraft were acquired in 1999 as part of the Strategic Defence Package, more commonly called the “arms deal.”
“This is an exciting business deal for South Africa,” says Kgobe. “The Cheetahs have been in storage since they were retired from active duty in 2008. Denel Aviation and the South African Cheetah Support industry in conjunction with the South African Air Force were directly involved in the decommissioning and packaging for storage of the aircraft and support infrastructure.
Kgobe stated that Denel’s offer met the needs of the Ecuadorian Air Force (FAE) that was looking to modernise its fighter fleet. Negotiations between Denel Aviation, Armscor and the FAE have been continuing since 2009. A FAE team visited South Africa in April this year to inspect the Cheetah fleet and to witness specific evaluation flights. The aircraft have been made available for sale through Armscor, the state agency responsible for the sale of surplus military products and equipment.
Complete maintenance and acceptance flight testing will be conducted in South Africa and in Ecuador, now that the deal has been finalised. Denel Aviation earlier visited FAE facilities to review the infrastructure and technical capability of the Ecuadorian Air Force to accommodate the Cheetah aircraft to evaluate the level of support required and to identify the need for further training.
“This is a huge breakthrough for Denel Aviation and it will open up a number of new opportunities for Denel and other players in the local industry involved in Cheetah support,” says Kgobe.