Uruguay Interested in Chinese L-15 Trainer

 - March 7, 2018, 12:30 PM
A team of FAU officers visited the Nanchang production facility in August 2016. (Photo: Chinese Internet/huanqiu.com)

The Fuerza Aérea Uruguaya (Uruguayan Air Force, FAU) could be the first Latin American customer for the Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation (HAIG) L-15 Lead In Fighter Trainer (LIFT). Guillermo Facello, deputy of the House of Representatives and member of the National Defence Commission, revealed the information in a television interview in February and added that the FAU might be looking at eight L-15s.

He said that discussions are still under way, but that the FAU has been searching for a modern aircraft in the attack role, and that the Chinese financing methods are more flexible than those of other suppliers. China has been pursuing Uruguay as a potential customer since at least 2011.

An earlier Chinese report revealed that the FAU had sent a team of officers to China in August 2016 to evaluate the L-15. Photos revealed that the evaluating pilots came from Escuadrón Aéreo No. 1 Ataque and Escuadrón Aéreo No. 2 Caza, which fly the FMA IA-58 Pucará and Cessna A-37B Dragonfly, respectively. The evaluation sorties were undertaken primarily in simulators.

The FAU is desperately in need of modernization but is short on cash. The IA-58 reportedly was decommissioned in 2017 due to a lack of spares, while the last dozen or so operational A-37Bs are kept flying by acquiring spares and contracting suppliers from neighboring states.

A handful of L-15s serve with China’s PLAAF and PLANAF, but are thought to be only for flight-test evaluation at the present time. The L-15 has seen export success in Zambia, where it is designated the L-15Z, with deliveries of six aircraft completed in 2017. The first L-15B attack variant was rolled out last May and first flew on December 21. The improved variant features an indigenous multifunction radar with a passive electronically scanned array that offers a range of approximately 47 miles (75 km). It also has nine weapon hardpoints, up from the seven fitted to the L-15A.