Venerable C-1s and A-4s Being Upgraded for Brazilian Carrier

 - January 5, 2015, 7:26 AM
An artist's impression of the Grumman C-1A in Brazilian Navy colors. (Photo: Elbit Systems)

The Brazilian Navy is proceeding with a project to refurbish four venerable Grumman C-1A Trader carrier-onboard delivery (COD) aircraft, despite initial problems in returning the 50-year-old aircraft to service. Elbit Systems recently announced that M7 Aerospace, its wholly owned U.S. subsidiary based in San Antonio, Texas, would perform the upgrade, which includes the addition of air tanking capability. The Brazilian Navy will use the aircraft to resupply its aircraft carrier, the NAe São Paulo, and for in-flight refueling of its forthcoming fleet of refurbished A-4 Skyhawk combat aircraft.

The U.S. Navy retired the last C-1A to desert storage at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, in 1988. They were the COD version of the S-2 Tracker ASW aircraft, which was built in much larger numbers for the U.S. Navy. A large number of S-2s were refurbished by Marsh Aviation of Phoenix, Arizona, including re-engining with Garrett (now Honeywell) TPE331 turboprops, for subsequent use as aerial firefighters in the U.S. Marsh also refurbished six S-2s for the Argentine Navy.

Carlos Frederico Carniero Primo, director of aeronautics for the Brazilian Navy, described the project to acquire the four refurbished C-1As for COD and AAR as “challenging." Speaking at The Fighter Conference in London last November, organized by IQPC, he said that Marsh Aviation was chosen as the contractor, but that after problems arose, the work had been reallocated to M7 Aerospace. Elbit said that M7 received a subcontract worth $106 million from Marsh and would perform the work over a five-year period, to include new avionics, communications and environmental control systems, as well as the engines. Carniero Primo added that, if the C-1A contract is successful, “we will convert more for airborne early warning [AEW].” (In fact, Grumman produced an AEW version of the C-1A as the E-1 Tracer, which was the U.S. Navy’s first purpose-built AEW aircraft).

Meanwhile, the first of the 12 A-4s that are being modernized for the Brazilian Navy is due for delivery next month, Carniero Primo reported. Embraer is the contractor, with IAI Elta Systems providing a new radar and IBS America a new electrical system. The airframes were selected from the former Kuwait air force A-4K fleet of 23 that Brazil acquired. Carniero Primo said that the 30-year-old aircraft were chosen after careful consideration because “nothing else fits” on the NAe São Paulo, except for the Lockheed Martin F-35B, which was too expensive. The modernization by Embraer is enhancing Brazilian indigenous capability, he added.

Brazil plans to keep its current aircraft carrier in service for another 15 to 20 years. The A-4s could eventually be replaced by the Sea Gripen version of the Swedish fighter that has been proposed by Saab. The Brazilian air force will acquire an initial 36 Gripens in a major contract that was finalized last October.