The Brazilian Navy’s (MB, in Portuguese) 1st Attack and Interceptor Jet Squadron (VF-1 Squadron), will soon have the first upgraded, dual-seat fighter jet A-4 Skyhawk. Dubbed AF-1C and registered as N-1022, the aircraft arrived at the end of April 2018 at the headquarters of Embraer in Gavião Peixoto, in the state of São Paulo. Embraer was awarded the contract for the upgrade.
Technicians who received the AF-1/1A Skyhawk aircraft from the VF-1 Squadron and Embraer performed ground and in-flight checks of all aircraft systems, as well as a qualitative assessment of the upgraded aircraft manuals. “We worked together to plan and execute flights, analyze results, and implement necessary adjustments to complete this process,” MB Commander Eduardo Luís Guimarães de Moura, deputy commander of the VF-1 Squadron, told Diálogo.
Embraer updated all aircraft instruments: avionics, HUD (head-up display) alert monitor, radios, navigation and weapons systems, ignition and oxygen systems, in addition to the radar warning receiver and radar replacement for the Elta 2032. Engineers inspected the aircraft’s structure and engine as well.
According to Cmdr. Eduardo Luís, the AF-1C can now operate as a versatile and accurate weapons platform for both day and night flights, and in any weather conditions. “The upgrade will make the aircraft safer and more efficient, increasing its capacity for self-defense and the likelihood of survival when operating in hostile environments,” he said.
MB and Embraer signed a contract in 2009 to upgrade seven fighter jets into four single-seat AF-1Bs and three two-seat AF-1Cs, which should be delivered by the end of 2020. Before the aircraft become operational, they will be used to train naval aviators on basic operations, such as familiarization and instrument flights.
To make the transition to the new AF-1C as smooth as possible, the VF-1 Squadron established a training program that includes ground instruction and flight training. “We teach theoretical classes, assessments and practical exercises, followed by flight training in two-seat aircraft under the supervision of a trained instructor,” said Cmdr. Eduardo Luís.
The VF-1 Squadron also expects the modernization program to have logistics benefits. “Because the aircraft underwent a major overhaul of its structure, engine, and outdated components, we should have less maintenance need, and consequently, a greater availability for operational and training flights,” Cmdr. Eduardo Luís said.
Modernization extends mission capacity
The newly upgraded AF-1 fighter jet systems strengthen the performance of the VF-1 Squadron, whose missions include intercepting and attacking aerial targets, locating, tracking, and attacking surface targets, contributing to aerospace defense and protecting naval forces. According to MB’s Public Affairs Office, the modernization process will expand the aircraft’s operational capacity for various tasks assigned to the VF-1 Squadron, including protecting the national wealth, Brazilian waters, maritime communication lines, and the exclusive economic zone.
“The AF-1/1A can perform aerial and aerospace defense actions at any time, day or night, as an effective and accurate weapons system, using bombs and cannons. It can integrate next-generation air-to-air missiles, offering the Brazilian Navy a very powerful, versatile way of covering great distances in short periods of time,” MB’s press release indicated. Cmdr. Eduardo Luís pointed to the operational gain with the Elta 2032 radar. The radar, integrated with weapons and navigation systems, can produce and store images and intelligence data, as well as locate, identify, and track objects of interest discretely and precisely.
“The Elta 2032 can perform autonomous interception, without the aid of radar and ground-based controllers, and under any weather conditions,” Cmdr. Eduardo Luís said. “It doesn’t just allow for detection, but also the tracking and attack of aerial or surface targets.”
The officer noted the newly incorporated radar warning receiver as well. “The system will alert for latent threats, like firing-range radars or surface-to-air missiles, allowing the pilot to employ evasion and avoidance techniques,” he said.
Cmdr. Eduardo Luís also highlighted the computerized navigation system, which provides accurate position and time information, fuel calculations, and performance. “This reduces the cabin workload and increases the pilots’ situational awareness, enabling better tactical management of the aircraft.”
“These are all tools that help the pilot with decision-making and contribute to compiling, analyzing, and managing the tactical framework without the need for interception control or an aerostatic director unit in the air,” Cmdr. Eduardo Luís said. The new AF-1C aircraft can integrate the latest generation of weapons to enable the engagement of aerial targets beyond the visual range, and can operate in complex air defense scenarios.
The VF-1 Squadron was created in 1998 to improve naval air defense at sea. The unit is located at the São Pedro da Aldeia Naval Air Base, in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
Besides air defense, the squadron performs attack operations, assessments, and defense of ports and restricted maritime areas. “Periodically, we perform attack and aerial support exercises with special operations teams and the Marine Corps Operational Groups, as well as exercises and exchanges with the Brazilian Air Force, which involve refueling in flight and air interception with F-5M aircraft,” Cmdr. Eduardo Luís said.
The air unit operates from the São Pedro da Aldeia Air Base since the retirement of the NAe A-12 São Paulo aircraft carrier in 2017. The VF-1 Squadron has 23 AF-1 Skyhawk fighter jets, including the seven to be upgraded by 2020. “By using capabilities the upgraded aircraft offer, the Brazilian Navy will have a versatile, effective aircraft for interception and attack,” Cmdr. Eduardo Luís concluded.