Embraer has handed the Brazilian Navy the first of 12 modernised AF-1B intercept and attack jets through a programme aimed at extending the service life of the carrier-based aircraft through to 2025.
Renamed AF-1 by Brazil, the McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks were purchased from Kuwait in the late 1990s and are now being upgraded with new computer and radar systems as well as improved communications equipment and weapons. AEL Sistemas, a local subsidiary of Elbit Systems, is replacing the analog panels in the cockpit with glass displays.
“This equipment, along with the structural work that was performed, will make it possible for these jet fighters to continue operating until 2025,” Embraer said in a May 27 announcement. “Embraer’s modernisation programme also includes supplying briefing and debriefing stations that are already being used for the training and proficiency of pilots of the VF-1 Falcão Squadron in order to improve their use, reduce costs, and to bring greater effectiveness to mission planning and execution.”
Embraer received a contract to extend the life of the dozen subsonic combat jets in 2009 – nine single-seaters and three tandems – and the final delivery date has since shifted from 2015 to 2017.
“This is the first contract for systems integration that we have signed with the Brazilian Navy and, therefore, is a landmark in our relations,” says Embraer Defense and Security president Jackson Schneider. “The modernisation of the AF-1 was a significant technological challenge, since it is a platform that we did not develop. Nevertheless, we were able to deliver a solution that fully meets the operational needs.”
Fleet Admiral Eduardo Bacellar Leal Ferreira of the Brazilian Navy described the AF-1 upgrade as a forward leap in combat capability. The aircraft were built in the late 1970s.
The delivery comes amid a period of economic uncertainty in Brazil that could see the government cut spending on the AMX International AMX and Northrop F-5 aircraft modernization efforts. Embraer is involved in both projects and is worried the work might be terminated prematurely.