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Florida firm plans to buy Dutch F-16Bs for training

A Florida-based company that provides training for US and other military customers plans to buy seven two-seat Lockheed Martin Block 15/40 F-16Bs from the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNAF). AeroGroup International hopes to take delivery of the first four aircraft in March and says it has "first refusal" on 12 single-seat F-16As.

Melbourne-based AeroGroup was formed in 1999 and acquired in 2001 by chief executive Mark Daniels, who plans an initial public offering in the first quarter of 2003. The company performs electronic-warfare and other training for the US Department of Defense (DoD) using a mix of ex-military aircraft, including Hawker Hunters, McDonnell Douglas A-4s and English Electric Canberras.

Daniels says the F-16s will become the company's main aircraft. The Dutch government has accepted AeroGroup's offer and the US Department of State has approved the onward sale of the aircraft, Daniels says, but details of the final contract are being worked out. The F-16s will be demilitarised and civil registered. A software update will de-active the fire-control and weapon systems.

AeroGroup's customers have been requesting a fourth-generation fighter, Daniels says. The two-seaters will be used for F-16 training while the single-seaters, if acquired, would be used mainly for electronic-warfare training. The company plans to pursue contracts with overseas operators, to capitalise on the reduction in DoD training support for foreign air forces, and the F-16 purchase is expected to lead to a deal with the RNAF.

AeroGroup says it has completed a contract to provide air-combat training for the Canadian Forces, flying its A-4s against Boeing CF-18s at CFB Cold Lake.

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