Argentina's air force plans to reach operational capability with its upgraded McDonnell Douglas A-4AR Fightinghawks by mid-year, pending completion of advanced training exercises which began on 7 February.

Operational clearance will be a major milestone for the programme, which began in 1994. Another significant milestone will be the air force's participation in the US Air Force's Red Flag combat exercises at Nellis AFB, Nevada, early in 2001.

Col Roberto Janett, commander of Argentina's Villa Reynolds air base, says the US deployment will depend on the success of the work-up exercises. "The aircraft are performing well. We are confident of becoming operational this year," he says.

Villa Reynolds is home to all 36 upgraded A-4ARs, which are divided among the three squadrons of the 5th fighter group. The last of the funded aircraft, including four two-seaters, arrived from the Lockheed Martin Aircraft Argentina conversion line at Cordoba in early January.

Although there is little prospect of funding in the mid-term to update more aircraft to meet the original requirement for 54, the fighter group is considering forming a fourth squadron, a move that will help accommodate extra pilots becoming available later this year.

Lockheed Martin, developing the advanced training programme to support the build-up, has completed the software loads for the aircraft, which features new cockpit, flight control, navigation and weapon systems and the ARG-1 radar - a Northrop Grumman APG-66 derivative. "What you end up with is similar to the [Lockheed Martin] F-16 Block 50," says Cal Felte, Lockheed Martin A-4AR flight training manager.

The training will initially focus on developing the A-4AR's advanced navigation and air-to-ground capabilities. "After that we'll go into all the air-to-air capabilities," says Felte.

Source: Flight International