The Alpha Jet was designed in the late 1960s to meet a joint Franco-German requirement for a jet trainer and light attack aircraft. It was seriously delayed by the formation of multi-national production programmes for both the aircraft and its two powerplants, so that although the prototype flew on 26 October 1973, the type did not enter service for a further six years.
The two original partners bought 350 aircraft. France received 176 E (Ecole, or trainer) versions while West Germany received 175 A (Appui, or attack) models equipped with an advanced nav/attack system, as well as a ventrally-mounted 27-mm Mauser cannon pod.
Exports of new-build trainers were made to Belgium (33), Egypt (Alpha Jet MS1 models), Ivory Coast (7), Morocco (24) Qatar (6), Nigeria (24) and Togo (5). Egypt later procured 15 MS2 attack variants with improved avionics that included a TMV630 laser rangefinder; seven MS2s were also supplied to Cameroon.
With the thawing of the Cold War and the transfer of German fast-jet crew training to the USA, the Luftwaffe retired its Alpha Jet fleet from 1992. Of these, 50 were supplied to Portugal in 1994, while Thailand received 25 in 2000 to replace OV-10 Broncos in the counter-insurgency and border patrol roles.
Finding itself barely capable of supporting the RAF's training needs due to its chronic shortage of Hawk trainers, Britain has also acquired ex-German Alpha Jets. Twelve have been procured, some to fly test and target facilities missions, the rest to act as a spares source.
In 2001 approximately 90 Alpha Jet Es remained in service with five Armee de l'Air squadrons (three at Tours and two at Cazaux). A further 13 aircraft equip the Patrouille de France, the national aerobatic team. The Armee de l'Air is considering the upgrade of perhaps 50 Alpha Jets with new systems to serve as lead-in trainers for the Mirage 2000-5F and Rafale, both of which have advanced glass cockpits.