When the South African Air Force upgraded to multi-role jet fighters, its existing fleet of Mirage F1 fighter aircraft was put up for sale.
Thanks to a joint venture between the Paramount Group and Aerosud, the Mirage F1 capability in South Africa has been retained and consolidated, and many of these fine aircraft are now fully refurbished, upgraded, and back in African skies.
Paramount Group and Aerosud jointly purchased the full complement of serviceable French-designed Dassault Mirage F1AZ aircraft from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in 2006. This move has benefited South Africa’s aviation industry by retaining the country’s Mirage engineering skills as well as increasing its aeronautical marketing reach. In so doing it has enhanced the air force capacity available to other countries. A squadron of F1s, together with spares and support, is already in operation in one West African country, and other sales are soon to be announced.
The agreement between Paramount Group and Aerosud combines the expertise of both companies to fill a much-needed gap in African aerospace. The Paramount Group, a leading supplier of turnkey solutions for defence and peacekeeping, is highly experienced in modernising and upgrading the defence and policing capabilities of countries in the developing world.
In addition to other facets of the package, Paramount provides internationally accepted financing and delivery terms, enabling the aircraft to be purchased by developing countries in need of increased air defence capacity. Aerosud, South Africa’s leading OEM supplier to clients such as Boeing and Airbus, provides the technical expertise to refurbish, maintain and upgrade the Mirage F1s.
The purchase of the Mirage F1 fleet from the SANDF included all the spares and infrastructure (support equipment) that are necessary in order to be able to maintain and support the fleet on an ongoing basis.
When these upgraded and improved aircraft are sold on, it is as part of a complete package, in line with Paramount’s business ethos of skills and technology transfer.
“Paramount has a long standing reputation as a world class systems provider” says Ivor Ichikowitz, Executive Chairman of Paramount Group.
“We provide an entire operating package with the deliverables including training and technical support, as a result of which the customer will have a fully operational and combat ready air force. In addition, Paramount has been successful in making this technologically complex project affordable. In the case of the first F1 package sold in West Africa, which is now well advanced in delivery, part of the package was in the upgrading of airfields, improving air traffic control systems and other areas”.
“It is Paramount’s intention” continued Ichikowitz “to utilise the rest of its fleet of available F.1’s to assist other air forces around the world to create similar capabilities and, where possible, to provide countries that would previously not have been able to afford this level of air force competence the ability of now being able to do so.
Training, says Dr. Paul Potgieter, Aerosud’s Group Managing Director, is a major part of the programme. In any air force, very few pilots make it through the long and rigorous process required to become fighter pilots.
(In the South African Air Force, for example, traditionally only three or four candidates out of every 100 would finally become F1 pilots, because of the taxing years of development through various aircraft to finally achieve the high skills level required.) Aerosud has enlisted the help of former South African Air Force fighter pilots as instructors to train F1 pilots from other countries. An important part of the package is a full-time pilot training course, including maintenance and other technical training elements. These courses are provided in South Africa and each is specifically tailored, in terms of language and other requirements, to suit the needs of the client country. Training is not just for pilots, but for the extensive network of support staff needed to safely and effectively operate a squadron of Mirage F1 aircraft.
“There are many facets to this training process,” says Dr. Potgieter. “Sometimes tactical training is required, to teach pilots with commercial experience to fly military aircraft. Another important aspect is to keep training current and up to date with changing technology. We are constantly modernising techniques as well as equipment; we have a new, state-of-the-art flight simulator and we source pilots with real-time military experience from South Africa as well as from the client country to train students. If necessary this includes language courses that help pilots to communicate more effectively with air traffic controllers and other personnel. Aerosud has a facility in Pretoria where they receive further tactical training, and once back in their own country this is continued with on-the-job training and a full understanding of aircraft maintenance.”
So successful has this joint initiative been, that other countries that operate F1s are in discussion with the Paramount-Aerosud partnership, with a view to collaborate in pilot training, aircraft upgrades, maintenance and overhaul, and extension of their air fleets.