France Modernizing Alpha Jet Trainer Avionics
The Alpha Jet was developed jointly by France’ Dassault Aviation and Germany’s Dornier. In France, they are mainly used as lead-in fighter trainers before pilots graduate to front-line combat aircraft like the Rafale and Mirage 2000, but they were built with secondary light attack capability as well. The Alpha Jet was expected to be the BAe Hawk’s main competitor in the international trainer and light attack market when it was introduced in the early 1980s, but it finished a distant 4th behind the Hawk, which remains in production to this day. Alpha Jet sales were made to France (176), Germany (175), Belgium (33), Cameroon (6-7), Egypt (45), Ivory Coast (7), Morocco (24), Nigeria (24), Qatar (6), and Togo (5). Germany would later dispose of most of its Alpha Jets during its 1990s disarmament drive, with sales to to Portugal (50), Thailand (25), the UAE (32), and the private “Flying Bulls” aerobatic team (3).
France’s DGA defense procurement agency awarded a EUR 22.6 million (about ) euro contract to modernize the avionics of 20 Alpha Jet E aircraft used by the Armee de l’Air. Co-contractors Thales Avionics and Belgium’s SABCA (Societe Anonyme Belge des Constructions Aeronautiques) will run the project, which will take place in 2 phases…
Phase 1 will see Thales & SABCA design, develop, test, and supply the avionics upgrade kits, which will include aircraft modifications like head-up displays; air-to-air and air-to-ground weapon systems; modern INS/GPS navigation systems, et. al., and improvements to the simulators so pilots can train for in-flight system failures of the new systems.
Phase 2 will involve integration of the new avionics and software onto the aircraft by the ministry’s Service Industriel de l’Aeronautique in Clermont-Ferrand. The first aircraft is to be upgraded by mid-2009. DGA release [in French] | Thales release.
This Article’s Lead Picture
The picture at the top of this article is a US DoD photo from Operation Desert Storm in 1991. In the lead is a French Armee de l’Air Mirage F1C. In the second row, left to right, one finds a Qatari Mirage F1C and a USAF F-16C. The rear row includes a Qatari Alpha Jet in the foreground, and a Canadian CF-18A in the background. The Qatari Alpha Jet can be identified as a French-built model by the rounded nose, as opposed to the pointed nose of the German jets. The difference is due to different avionics, as the German jet was more explicitly designated as a light attack aircraft and has slightly different avionics.
Some readers may also ask what the #1 and #2 jet trainer and light attack aircraft were, if the Hawk finished 3rd and the Alpha Jet a distant 4th?
The answer is the the Czech L-39 Albatross, with over 2,800 sold and exported to a vast array of Soviet-bloc and 3rd world countries. Many are still in operation. Afghanistan’s air force, for example, still flies them. So does Estonia’s.
The supersonic T-38 trainer is #2 with over 1,100 produced, mostly for the USA. It would later be used as the basis for the popular and widely exported F-5 light fighter family.
The BAE Systems Hawk is 3rd with over 900 produced, and is the only one of these 4 to remain in production. It would be #2 if exports was the yardstick, and may yet attain the #2 position overall among its contemporaries. A dedicated LIFT (Lead-In Fighter Trainer) version for 4th & 5th generation jet fighters is now in production, and the French Alpha Jet upgrade is an effort to achieve a similar result for the Armée de l’Air’s trainers.
Under 500 Alpha Jets were produced, a respectable number but still number 4.