A joint Russo-South African upgrade for the SAAF's Mirage-based Atlas Cheetah fighters is to be undertaken. Russian sources reveal that a formal announcement will be made at the MAKS-2001 Air Salon at Moscow's Zhukhovskii aerodrome in August. According to ITAR-TASS, the upgrade is to be undertaken jointly by South Africa's Armscor, the Russian MiG aircraft building corporation, the V. Ya. Klimov engine plant and the Vympel State Machine Building Design Bureau. The exact content of the upgrade has not been revealed, although it is thought to include the Advanced Combat Wing (ACW) developed in South Africa, re-engining with the MiG-29's RD-33 turbofan (already flight tested by a South African Mirage F1 and a Cheetah D), and the integration of new weapons and avionics systems, probably including the Vympel RVV-AE (AA-12 ‘Adder').
The upgrade will also provide a significant life extension, allowing the modernised Cheetahs to fly for a further 15 years. News of the upgrade comes as a surprise, as South Africa's Cheetahs were previously expected to be replaced by the SAAB/BAE Systems Gripens ordered last year. The aircraft may be being upgraded to be sold on to a third party, and not for use by the SAAF. The upgrade will also be offered to third party operators of the Mirage III, 5 and 50, including Pakistan, Peru and Venezuela, and perhaps to Argentina, which operates the similar Israeli-built Dagger (Finger) fighters. This represents an estimated $6 billion market comprising about 300-400 candidate aircraft.