Ecuador to take nine Cheetah


Ecuador is to buy nine Denel Cheetah C fighter aircraft for US$80 million, a report from the Latin American country says. Denel says it and Armscor have been listed as the preferred supplier of the former South African Air Force (SAAF) single-seat fighters.

Spokeswoman Sinah Phochana says “following their internal processes Ecuador will issue a request for proposal which Denel will respond to”.

The French ADIT research agency says the Ecuadorian Air Force (FAE) has reportedly decided to reduce the number of Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucanos ordered from 24 to 18 to fund its requirement for additional supersonic jets to replace 13 Mirage F1JA fighters that are now 31 years old. It says the El Comercio newspaper in Quito reports the interim fighter programme will be paid for over five years.

ADIT adds South Africa competed against an offer of 12 Dassault Mirage-50 Panteras from Chile and 12 Mirage F1Ms. It says the strong points of the SA offer are reportedly the price and “a certain commonality with the Kfir CEs already in service in the FAE.” The Cheetahs will fly besides 10 Mirage-50EVs recently donated by Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez of which six are believed to be operational.

In the medium to long-term, Ecuador is said to be looking to acquire a batch 4th-generation aircraft to counter a potential threat from Peru although funding for this is uncertain.

News of the sale broke last September when the Engineering News reported the negotiations had been confirmed by Ecuadorian Defence Minister Javier Ponce. Ecuador has, in principle, decided to acquire the Cheetahs, but an actual purchase depended on the outcome of the financial negotiations, the ezine reported.
“Ecuador has budgeted an initial $35-million for this programme, but expects the total costs to be higher,” the publication added. According to an Ecuadorian press report, representatives of Denel offered Cheetahs to Ecuador on August 26, while visiting the FAE’s Cotopaxi Air Base.

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 in October said the deal was for a combination of both the Cheetah C and D, “the number of each will be verified on completion of the deal.”
“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,” then-CE Ismail Dockrat said last October. 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 SA offer included 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.

Thirty-eight 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.

The sale is not the first involving the Cheetah In 2004, SA had exported three non-airworthy Cheetah E fighter airframes to Chile. This was in addition to two delivered the year before.

Pic: A Cheetah C flies in formation with a C130 near Makhado in this 2006 archive photo