Three ex-South African Air Force Cheetah fighters will arrive in Ecuador this week as deliveries of the 12 aircraft on order commence.
The first three aircraft were shipped from South Africa last week, Ecuadorian Defence Minister Javier Ponce told the El Universo newspaper on Friday.
Neither Denel, Armscor nor the Ecuadorian Air Force could be reached for comment at the time of going to press.
In December last year, Denel Aviation, Armscor and the South African Air Force (SAAF) jointly sold 12 Cheetahs to Ecuador for US$78.4 million. Both single seat and dual seat Cheetah form part of the Ecuadorian package, with ten Cheetah C and two Cheetah D being included in the package
The deal provides for five years of support in addition to the acquisition of the aircraft, support equipment, spares and training. Denel Aviation CE Mike Kgobe affirmed that the cost of the initial acquisition is US43.4 million and South African industry would receive a further US$7 million per annum for support, with a total contract value of US$78.4 million. “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.
According to the Commander in Chief of the Fuerza Aerea Ecuatoriana (FAE), Brigadier General Leonardo Barreiro, the modernised South African aircraft would replace the twelve obsolete Mirage F1 fighters which the FAE has operated since 1979 and have completed their useful life. “Our pilots travelled to South Africa to fly the aircraft and verify the aircrafts´ condition. Their report ratified that they are in good condition,” emphasised Barreiro.
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 FAE, 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 1990’s, 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 Gripens are still in the process of being delivered, with the final delivery expected in 2012.
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.
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.)