Murphy's Law: Remembering 1982


November 10, 2017: In late 2017 Argentina finally found an affordable way to upgrade and refurbish its eleven elderly Super Étendard bombers. The Argentine bombers had been inoperable since 2005 because it was too expensive to get an aircraft like this refurbished much less upgraded as well. The solution was to buy five of the recently retired French Super Étendard along with some unused upgrade kits for $16.5 million and first allow its pilots to learn how to fly a modernized Super Étendard and then to use upgrade kits and parts from the French Super Étendards to get all or most of the Argentinian Super Étendards back in service.

Super Étendards remained in French service until July 2016 and received several rounds of upgrades (the last one in 1998). The Argentine Super Étendards entered service in 1979 and never received major upgrades and even the refurbishments were minimal.

The French upgraded their Super Étendards so they could use fire and forget versions of the Exocet and ASMP air to ground missiles. Upgrades also included better radar and electronic warfare pods mounted on two new pylons under wings. Later upgrades enabled pilots to use night vision goggles. Other new features included improved electronic defense systems along with satellite communications system and the ability to use smart bombs like the laser guided GBU-49/-58 and AS-30L missile. Argentina does not need all these upgrades and will only upgrade its elderly Super Étendards with the ones they can use (or afford to use).

All this fuss is over an aircraft that was developed, and remained in service for so long by accident. The 12 ton Super Étendard is basically a customized version of the ten ton Étendard IV light bomber modified to operate from aircraft carriers. The Super Étendard could carry about two tons of weapons and max operational range was 850 kilometers. The Étendard IV was a 1960s design and only 90 were built. Most Super Étendards served with the French navy from 1978 until 2016. In contrast the Étendard IV retired in 1991. All Super Étendards were built between 1974 and 1984.

Argentina bought 14 of them in 1979 and in 1982 these aircraft, using Exocet anti-ship missiles sank a British destroyer and a large merchant ship converted to operate helicopters as well as haul supplies. France also lent Iraq five Super Étendards for a year in 1983 (pending the arrival of more modern aircraft Iraq had bought). One of these Super Étendards mistook an American frigate for Iranian and heavily damaged it with an Exocet missile. Four of the Iraqi Super Étendards were returned to France, the other one having been shot down by the Iranians.

In French service Super Étendards saw combat in Lebanon in 1982, Serbia in 1999, Libya in 2011 and Syria and Iraq in 2015. In all this handful of Super Étendards served for 38 years. Not bad for an adapted land-based light bomber produced in small numbers. American carrier aircraft like the F-14 and A-6 have served in larger numbers for longer but they got plenty of publicity. Super Étendards just kept at and did the job it was designed for.

With this improvised upgrade the Argentine air force will be able to use their only supersonic military aircraft again. However even with upgraded Super Étendards these will be defenseless vs four British Typhoon fighters and rapier air defense unit stationed on Falkland Islands. Memories of 1982 linger. -- Przemysław Juraszek




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