As deliveries of new aircraft such as the Gripen and F-35 begin to ramp up, operators must transition their air forces to the new fighter era. In order to do so, legacy aircraft must be equipped with at least minimal fifth-generation capabilities while maintaining an acceptable and safe level of structural integrity.
The Brazilian Joint Budget Committee of Congress recently approved $28 million for the Aeronautical Command to continue upgrading the nation’s fleet of AMX fighters. Earlier in the year, the government vetoed $31 million for AMX modernization, and the new $28 million allocation still faces congressional approval. Only a few aircraft have been delivered to the Brazilian Air Force so far. Even with approval of the $28 million, the chaotic nature of the current Brazilian government and economy does not bode well for the AMX upgrade program.
Meanwhile, in November, the Indian Air Force declared initial operational clearance for three Jaguars that have received the long-awaited DARIN III upgrade.
Although Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) successfully flight-tested two DARIN III Jaguars in 2015, the timeline for the entire program has been pushed back by at least two years, and the delay may prove costly. Improving the upgrade program to India’s standards may increase the cost per aircraft. Should that happen, India may reduce the scope of the program by eliminating less essential components or by limiting the number of aircraft to be upgraded.
DARIN III Final Operational Capability had been expected to be achieved by August 2016, and the entire fleet was expected to be completed by 2019, another deadline that is unlikely to be met. With only a six-month delay, though, there may be a glimmer of hope that the program will come close to meeting the deadline.
Even so, without new engines, the DARIN III program loses much of its value. The Jaguar’s mission is to fly sorties into enemy territory against radar that will pick up the Jaguars’ intrusion and scramble fighters to intercept them. Lacking competitive engines with adequate speed to outrun enemy air defenses, Jaguars will find it difficult to complete such missions.
More optimistically, there are major F-16 retrofit programs underway for the United States, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan. The Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) and F-16V-related upgrades equate to more than $7.6 billion over the 10-year forecast period.
Most prominent among these upgrade programs is integration of AESA radar capabilities, while a number of other modifications include the integration of advanced avionics, new sensors, modern displays, and weapons enhancements.
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