Procurement: Orphaned Cheetahs Find A Home in Ecuador


December 25, 2010: South Africa has completed its deal to sell twelve recently (2008) retired Cheetah C jet fighters to Ecuador. The deal, which took over a year to negotiate, includes the South African aircraft manufacturer (Denel) supplying maintenance and technical support services to keep the aircraft flying. The Cheetahs will replace Ecuador's current force of Mirage F1s and Jaguar warplanes.

The Cheetah C is a 13.7 ton fighter that was developed in South Africa, and built on the frame of older Mirage III fighters. Israel assisted the conversion, and 38 Cheetah Cs entered service in the 1980s and served for two decades. In the hands of experienced pilots, the Cheetah C has proved capable against modern fighters. In one case, during air-to-air combat exercises, Cheetah Cs held their own against American F-15s.

Cheetah Cs are equipped to drop smart bombs and use radar guided air-to-air missiles. The aircraft can carry up to four tons of bombs and missiles. The Cheetah Cs were well maintained, and Ecuador is probably getting them for less than $10 million each. South Africa recently replaced its Cheetah Cs with Swedish Gripen fighters. Ecuador is replacing Mirage F1s, aircraft contemporary with the Mirage III. Since the Cheetah Cs are basically heavily updated Mirage IIIs, there will be some similarities that will help Ecuadoran pilots and maintainers do the transition.

Chile has also bought some of the Cheetahs, for use as a source of spare parts.