Ecuador has received all 12 of the ex-South African Air Force Cheetah fighters it ordered in late 2010, President Rafael Correa has announced.
Correa said in his weekly report on January 21 that Ecuador has received ten Cheetah Cs and two Cheetah Ds from Denel Aviation.
Correa added that Ecuador has recovered its defensive capability and received a variety of new equipment to protect its airspace, including 18 Embraer Super Tucanos. The Super Tucano order was reduced from 24 to 18 to release funds for the Cheetahs.
Ecuador began upgrading its military following the March 2008 bombing by Columbian forces of a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) camp inside Ecuador. “I will never forget March 1, 2008…that cannot be repeated and while I’m president will not be repeated,” Correa said.
In December last year, Denel Aviation, Armscor and the South African Air Force jointly sold 12 Cheetahs to Ecuador for US$78.4 million.
The deal provides for five years of support in addition to the acquisition of the aircraft, support equipment, spares and training. Denel’s Aviation chief executive, Mike Kgobe, affirmed that the cost of the initial acquisition is US$43.4 million and South African industry will receive a further US$7 million per annum for support. “The deal has a benefit for the specialist South African support industry which cannot be underestimated. Their involvement is crucial to ensuring the delivery and support success of the programme over the support period,” Kgobe said.
The first Cheetahs arrived by ship in the first quarter of last year. In August one of the Cheetahs experienced an in-flight incident that injured Ecuadorian pilot Major Galo Álvarez. Ecuadorian media say part of the ejection seat exploded, damaging the cockpit and injuring Alvarez’s face. After the incident, Denel test pilot Mike Weingartz, who was seated in the rear cockpit, was able to bring the aircraft safely back to Taura Air Base. In response, Denel sent a team of investigators to Ecuador to find the cause of the incident, which occurred on an acceptance flight.
According to the Commander in Chief of the Fuerza Aerea Ecuatoriana (FAE), Brigadier General Leonardo Barreiro, the modernised South African aircraft will replace the twelve obsolete Mirage F1 fighters which the Ecuadorian air force has operated since 1979.
The FAE has 13 Kfir C.2 and TC.2 (single and duel-seat aircraft respectively) in service, from 18 obtained directly from Israel. At least eight have already been upgraded to the latest Kfir C.10 version, known in Ecuador as the Kfir CE.
According to the Ecuadorian air force, the Cheetah is compatible in their electronics and weapons systems with the Israeli Kfir CE and will thus complement their supersonic fleet.
The SAAF started the withdrawal of the Cheetah aircraft in the late 1990s, with the retired aircraft utilised to support the remaining aircraft. The final aircraft were only to be retired once all the Swedish Gripens purchased under the Strategic Defence package acquisition programme had been delivered in 2012. However, the remaining 11 Cheetah C single-seat and five Cheetah D dual-seat aircraft were phased out in April 2008 to save costs.
The Cheetah upgrade of the French Mirage III was developed by Denel Aviation and is based on the Israeli Kfir fighter, itself a development of the Mirage III. The modernisation consisted of a complete renovation of the airframe, implementation of fixed canards, two new weapon points on the wings, a new in-flight refuelling intake, new ejection seats and a more powerful engine. It also included more sophisticated avionics, radar and self protection systems.
Work on the first conversion began in April 1983. The type was officially unveiled to the public on July 16, 1986, although it was only declared operational the next year. Thirty-eight C-models, 16 D-models and 16 E-variants were remanufactured. In October 2003 Chile bought five Cheetah Es as spare parts sources for their ENAER Pantera aircraft. (These are Mirage 50s upgraded with Israeli assistance to Kfir standard.)