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FIDAE: Fighter manufacturers eye Chile's F-5 replacement need

Defence contractors displayed their wares at Chile's FIDAE air show in the hope of securing an early foothold in a potential new fighter contest.

By 2015, Chile must replace an aged fleet of 16 upgraded Northrop F-5E/Fs, locally called the Tiger III Plus. The aircraft are the remnants of a larger fleet that has mostly been replaced with second-hand Lockheed Martin F-16s.

Though the F-5s are equipped with the relatively new EL/M-2032 radar from Israel's Elta Systems, the lightweight fighters date back to the early 1970s. Santiago had originally hoped to retire the twin-engined type by 2009.

However, a replacement programme never materialised. Instead, Chile continued to buy surplus F-16AM/BMs from ex-Royal Netherlands Air Force stocks. Initially, it had planned to buy 18 of the refurbished aircraft, but has instead ended up with 36. That is in addition to 10 F-16C/D Block 52s that the country purchased new from the USA.

US and European defence contractors are expressing interest in supplying Chile with new fighters to replace the remaining F-5s.

Boeing displayed an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block II cockpit demonstrator with a front and rear cockpit that can mimic either version of the strike aircraft, and a large area display that the company is currently developing. Boeing says it does not comment on discussions it might have with potential customers.

Saab is also attending the show, and the company says it would be interested in a Chilean tender should it materialise.

"Based on our experiences from the successful F-5 replacement in Thailand and the ongoing negotiations with Switzerland on the same theme, we are confident that Gripen would be a very interesting candidate in this case as well," says company representative Jenny Nilsson. However, it has had no contact with the Chilean government regarding any F-5 replacement, it says.

Lockheed is also at FIDAE, but is non-committal about bidding for a potential Chilean requirement, noting that it will work with the nation to "to ensure that their F-16 fleet continues to serve the defence needs of their country".

The Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon are also potential candidates if a contest takes place.

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