Brazil and Chile have begun to switch their attention to the second-hand fighter market for future combat aircraft purchases. The move comes as conflicting pressures to replace obsolete aircraft and a shortage of defence modernisation funds put a question mark against buying new aircraft.

The two South American countries have sought, and been supplied with, data on available surplus fighters as possible near-term alternatives to new aircraft. Economic difficulties have resulted in Brazil and Chile either scaling back or delaying their respective F-X and Fighter 2000 programmes.

Lockheed Martin and Boeing have made offers of surplus F-16A/Bs and F/A-18A/Bs, respectively, to Chile's air force. The former has also opened discussions with Israel Aircraft Industries about upgrading the F-16s on offer.

Some Chilean air force officers appear reluctant to take used aircraft in lieu of new fighters, but successive cuts in the amount of available funds is putting the purchase of any meaningful numbers of fighters beyond its reach. Earlier this year, the budget was cut to about $600 million, halving the planned order to 12 aircraft. Competing manufacturers were asked to revalidate their bids.

There are indications there might now be as little as $300 million available, making a second-hand purchase the only viable alternative. A final decision is not expected until early next year, after this month's Chilean election. Also, the two US companies have offered new versions of their respective aircraft, while Saab/BAE Systems has offered the Gripen and Dassault the Mirage 2000-5.

Brazil has also issued a recent request for information on second-hand fighters, drawing a similar response from US industry which is offering surplus F-16s and F/A-18s. The Netherlands is also understood to have responded with an offer of surplus F-16A/Bs. Brazil requires about 20 fighters as an interim replacement for Mirage IIIBR/EBRs.

France is believed to have proposed upgrading the 16-18 remaining fighters in the absence of second-hand Mirage 2000 fighters, but this appears to command little support, given the difficulty into which Brazil's planned Northrop F-5E/F avionics upgrade has run. The Mirage IIIs and F-5s are due to be replaced by the yet-to-be selected F-X, but these will not be available before 2005 at the earliest.

Source: Flight International