Refurbished Dutch F-16s bound for Chilean air force

Sept. 28, 2010 at 1:12 PM
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SANTIAGO, Chile, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- Chile is starting to take delivery of Dutch F-16 fighter bombers, that old workhorse of the Cold War years, as part of a deal that will see the Chilean air force making more use of the refurbished jets.

This week, 18 of the refurbished F-16s are to be delivered to Chile at the Leeuwarden Air Base in the Netherlands and more are due for transfer to the Latin American country at a later stage. Chilean officials said the final number of F-16s in the air force could total 44 by 2011.

The total price tag on the refurbishment, appropriately called the Mid-Life Upgrade, wasn't discussed. Figures in excess of $270 million were mentioned but not confirmed.

Other than technological advancement, including change of software and battle-readiness of the aircraft, the F-16s will undergo change of colors and symbols before they land in Chile.

The Dutch air force decided to sell the F-16s as surplus to its need. Dutch instructors are training Chilean military personnel, including maintenance engineers on the upkeep of the fighter bombers once they enter the Chilean air force service.

Chile pursued the purchase for several years before the initial deal became known in April 2009.

Industry analysts said the upgrade of the F-16s bound for Chile was likely to be to standard configuration, which makes them capable of performing all kinds of missions. Whether the upgrade includes the whole range of operating software or some has been withheld isn't known. Analysts said it was unlikely that the full range of U.S. software would be made available for transfer to Chile.

Industry sources said the Chilean F-16s could likely be equipped with Israeli Python 4 and Derby missiles.

The F-16 entered service in 1979 as a General Dynamics innovation specifically for the U.S. Air Force. In 1993, General Dynamics sold its aircraft manufacturing business to the Lockheed Corp., which in turn became part of Lockheed Martin after a 1995 merger with Martin Marietta.

The F-16 "Fighting Falcon" -- nicknamed "Viper" by pilots because of its nose -- was expected to be replaced by a successor in 1999. Due to several reasons, both economic and political, the F-16 wasn't replaced. Instead, in an effort to maintain the same level of operational capabilities and operational effectiveness of existing aircraft over the next 10 to 20 years amid ever increasing technology, the manufacturers put in place an extensive modernization program. It became known as the Mid-Life Update.

The Netherlands air force initially bought a total of 213 F-16A/B, one of four European participating air forces and one of five countries to build the F-16 locally. Later the Dutch reduced their inventory to 108 aircraft but upgraded all of them to MLU standard. Some surplus Dutch F-16s were sold to Jordan.

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