Ecuador is considering the purchase of 12 Atlas Cheetah C fighter bombers from South Africa, according to Defence minister Javier Ponce in an interview with Quito’s newspaper El Universal.
“The Ecuadorian Armed Forces are negotiating the acquisition of 12 combat aircrafts from the South African Air Force”, confirmed Ponce adding that the process is expected to begin next December involving 35 million US dollars.
The Atlas Cheetah C aircrafts are a modified version of the French built Mirage.
The Ecuadorian Air Force recommended the purchase of the refurbished South African aircrafts, following offers from Spain, Chile and Venezuela, because they are beyond the budget earmarked for the operation, said El Universo.
Ecuador’s Air Force commander, General Rodrigo Bohórquez aid on Wednesday that the institution is also considering an offer from Venezuela, which is willing to donate most of its decommissioned Mirage 50.
“The offering is being analyzed and we must make a very detailed survey of the operational and logistics of these aircrafts”, said General Bohorquez.
The Venezuelan proposal followed the disclosure that Ecuador was considering purchasing 14 Mirage 50 from Chile.
Former Ecuadorian head of the Air Force Jorge Gabela said the Venezuelan Mirage 50 are outdated, junk and “are being donated for political reasons”.
“They are old aircraft and at the most some of them could be recovered for spares but never to fly”, said Gabela.
According to El Universo quoting undisclosed military sources the Venezuelan Air Force has 12 Mirage 50, “but it’s not known how many they are willing to donate Ecuador; only half of them are in flying conditions”.
The Ecuadorean Air Force has 18 Mirage F1, several Kfir (the Mirage Israeli version) and UK manufactured Jaguar. General Bohorquez said that the Kfir have exhausted their flying time and the Mirages need spares. Only one is in flying conditions.
However Ecuadorian ambassador in Caracas René Vargas said that the final decision on the Mirage C 50 rests on President Rafael Correa
Ecuador is in the process of modernizing its Air Force to strengthen border patrolling with Colombia, following the March 2008 incident, when Colombian troops stormed a FARC guerrilla settlement in Ecuadorian territory.
Ecuador has already purchased 24 Super Tucano Brazilian combat aircrafts for guerrilla jungle warfare to be delivered in 2010 plus radars, helicopters and drones.