Years of unswerving pressure from the Colombian army wore down the narco-terrorist FARC. Much of that pressure was led by the popular (former) President Uribe, who ruled out a bid for constitutional amendments and an attempt at a 3rd term of office in 2009. His legacy continued, however, thanks to a special 2006 tax was set up to back those military gains with about $4 billion worth of military hardware.
Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper reported that the deals were set to include a wide variety of equipment from American, French, German, Israeli, and Russian suppliers. Colombia is well into the delivery phase, and has added key equipment buys along the way.
According to the 2009 El Tiempo report, Colombia’s navy would receive goods from France and Germany, including 60 fast patrol boats, and improved submarines. Their submarine fleet currently includes 2 U209/1200 Class boats, and a January 2009 announcement stated that ARC Pijao and ARC Tayrona would be modernized for a 3rd time using packages from HDW. These packages will be installed in Cartagena, Colombia by the state-owned shipyard COTECMAR. In 2012, Colombia added to its sub-surface fleet by buying 2 used German U206A pocket submarines.
Ground troops will receive 20 more 105mm artillery cannons, and Indumil’s continued local manufacture of the Israeli-designed Galil rifles that equip Colombia’s armed forces. The 2009 thinking was that might be joined by 30-92 more BTR-80 armored vehicles, if negotiation problems with the Russians ever get solved. They didn’t, and so Colombia ended up buying Textron’s M1117 Commando APCs as wheeled cavalry vehicles instead.
In the air, Colombia’s 2005 order for 25 Super Tucano counterinsurgency aircraft has already been delivered. The new planes will be joined by a number of UH-60L Black Hawks, 5 Russian Mi-17s, 12 Bell 212 “Rapaz” helicopter gunships, UAVs in unspecified numbers and types, and an array of Cessna Caravan 208B and King Air 350 aircraft that remind one of the new Iraqi Air Force’s similarly-constituted reconnaissance fleets. About 25 light aircraft will reportedly be produced in Colombia itself, for use in roles that will also include Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC). As of 2013, the FAC is looking to add light attack jets to this mix, which would be capable or air policing or counterinsurgency work as needed.
The high end is a $160 million deal for 24 modernized Kfir C10 jet fighters with EL/M-2032 radars and upgraded weapons, plus a $40 million deal for accompanying precision-guided munitions and missiles. Of the 24, 11 are upgraded FAC Kfir C7s (to become C12s), and 13 are lower flight-hours models from Israeli stocks (to become C10s). They’re be accompanied by a new K-767 MMTT aerial tanker, giving the FAC considerable strike reach when needed. In 2013, a FAC general added that Colombia was looking to buy a few more fighters as high-end air superiority options.
Contracts and Key Developments
2011 – 2014
Feb 19/14: Kfir crash. A twin-seat TC.12 Kfir conversion trainer crashes near Norcasia in the central province of Caldas. One pilot manages to eject, but the other goes down with the plane. Colombia imposes a temporary freeze on flights, until the cause is clear. The FAC will be inspecting the entire fleet, with help from engine and maintenance specialists from Israel and the United States.
That makes 4 major accidents with the jets since 2009, and the 3rd loss. Colombia now has just 1-2 of the TC.12 trainers left, alongside 19 single-seat Kfir C.10s and C.12s. That matters, because it takes many months of conversion training to qualify pilots. Sources: El Tiempo, “Investigan caída de avión Kfir de la FAC en Caldas” | Fox News Latino, “Colombian pilot dies when Kfir jet crashes” | IHS Janes 360, “Colombian Kfir lost in training accident” and “Colombian Air Force suspends Kfir operations”.
Sept 27/13: Kfir crash. A twin-seat Kfir crashes near the Palanquero military base at Puerto Salgar. Both crewmen are unharmed. Sources: Fox News Latino, “Colombian pilot dies when Kfir jet crashes”.
Kfir crashes & flight suspension
Nov 14/13: Light Jets & Fighters. Colombia bought 25 “Drakos”/ Super Tucano tuboprops in 2005 as training and counterinsurgency aircraft, but they don’t seem to have that type on the shortlist to replace their aged Cessna A-37 Dragonfly light strike jets and Rockwell OV-10 Bronco armed Forward Air Control platforms.
Instead, initial candidates are reportedly all jets: the Czech L-159, whose rough field capabilities and advanced weapons have been touted to Colombia before; BAE Systems’ Hawk trainer, which also comes in light attack versions; and the Alenia/Embraer AMX. Brazil’s AMX fleet are receiving “A-1M” upgrades, but the type is out of production, and was only sold to Brazil and Italy. One wonders whether the Italians are looking to sell their fleet.
Colombia Brig. Gen. Carlos Bueno also tells IQPC’s International Fighter Conference that they’re looking for an AEW plane (an IAI G550 CAEW was shown), and advanced second-hand fighters to supplement their Kfir C10/C12s. Reports from the conference had Bueno mentioning the F-16, Sukhoi Su-30, Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen, Dassault’s Mirage 2000 and Rafale, “and some more”. Used F-16s are widely available, Sweden could offer some JAS-39A/Bs (upgraded or otherwise), and the UAE has almost 60 advanced Mirage 2000-9s they’re looking to sell. Rafales aren’t available second-hand, and would be prohibitively expensive new. SU-30s aren’t really available second-hand, but might barely be affordable new; Colombia’s neighbor Venezuela flies them. Finally, IAI is touting a “Kfir Block 60” option with a more advanced AESA radar, integration with Spice dual-mode GPS/IIR bombs, and Python 5 short-range air-to-air missiles. Based on costs, availability, and the ability to carry in-service weapons, F-16s are a very strong choice, with Gripen and Kfir Block 60 fighters right up there. Dassault’s Mirage has an issue with weapon compatibility, as does Sukhoi. Sources: Defense Update, “At 40 Years of age, Kfir Turns into a “Networked Fighter” | IHS Jane’s 360, “Colombia looks to procure new fighter type”.
Aug 5/12: UAVs. Elbit announces a sale of its Medium Altitude Long Endurance Hermes 450 and 900 unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to “a Latin American customer.” The buyer is later identified as Colombia.
Elbit said the contract includes the Hermes Universal Ground Control Stations (UGCS), Elop’s DCoMPASS surveillance turrets, and satellite communication systems that allow the UAVs to operate over remote areas. Deliveries will be made over the next 2 years. Read “Size Matters: Elbit’s Hermes 900 MALE UAV” for full coverage.
Hermes 450/ 900 UAVs
Feb 25/12: Subs. The Bangkok Post reports that Colombia has bought 2 of the 6 U206A submarines that Thailand had been interested in.
“If and when the submarines are acquired, the [Thai] navy will have to adjust its own budget to effectively maintain the upkeep of the submarines… However, since the cabinet has not yet approved the proposals, Germany has in the meantime sold two of the submarines to Colombia. The navy now hopes to buy the remaining four for 5.5 billion baht.”
Feb 12/12: Subs. Colombia is reported to be talking to Germany about its used 550t U206A submarines, to join the navy’s 2 upgraded full-size U209 submarines, and its fleet of old mini-subs. The U206s are small, but more than enough to deal with the drug-runners’ semi-submersible boats. They also act as a potent deterrent against Venezuela, because their small size and design for shallow waters makes them an especial threat to Venezuela’s oil production. Colombia is competing with Thailand, who has also shown interest in the German boats. StrategyPage.
2009 – 2010
Dec 1/10: K-767. AAR announces that their Cargo Systems Division facility in Goldsboro, NC was selected by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to manufacture the main deck cargo loading systems for their B767-200 Multi-Mission Tanker Transport (MMTT) conversion program for Colombia. In addition to the B767-200 MMTT, AAR has supplied IAI with cargo loading systems for their B767-200 and B767-300 passenger-to-freighter conversion programs.
Sept 5/10: K-767. Israel Aerospace Industries’ Bedek unit finishes successful flight trials involving a modified second-hand 767-200ER, which it converted to a new multi-mission tanker/transport (MMTT) by adding internal modifications and IAI’s ARP3 wing air refuelling pods:
“During the first 3.5-hour flight test, the full envelope, including altitude, speed, and Mach number, was opened without any flutter or buffet problems. Additional in-flight refueling tests of a C10 Kfir fighter jet, also produced by IAI, were successfully completed.”
Sept 1/10: KC-390. Colombian defense minister Rodrigo Rivera announces that the country is negotiating to join the KC-390 tactical airlifter partnership, and have signed a Declaration of Intent. They are reportedly interested in buying up to 12 planes to replace their existing fleet of 7 C-130B/H Hercules aircraft, and possibly other models in the FAC’s inventory. In return, they would join as industrial partners, via Colombian Aeronautics Industry Corp. The FAC is familiar with Brazilian aircraft, flying EMB 312 Tucanos, EMB 314 Super Tucanos, and a pair of EMB 110 Banderiante twin-turboprop light passenger/ transport planes.
The DoI was signed along with a broader set of agreements between Colombia and Brazil, covering economics, technology, environment and security. Marco Aurelio Garcia, a special adviser on Brazil’s international affairs, reportedly reaffirmed that the conflict with FARC’s narco-guerrillas was solely Colombia’s internal issue, and Brazil would become involved only if Colombia requested it. That declaration is an obstacle to efforts by FARC and its backers in countries like Venezuela, who wish to pressure Colombia by internationalizing the conflict. Aviation Week | Defense News | defpro | Flight International | China’s Xinhua || In Spanish: La Republica | Terra Colombia | Vanguardia Liberal.
Aug 5/10: UH-60s. The US DSCA announces Colombia’s official request to buy 9 UH-60L Black Hawk Helicopters (1 Colombian Air Force, 4 Colombian National Police, 4 Colombian Army) with associated equipment and services.
March 24/10: UH-60s. Sikorsky Aerospace Services announces an agreement with the Colombian Ministry of Defense to establish a Black Hawk Helicopter Training Facility at the Colombian Air Force Base in Melgar. The Training Facility will offer a full motion Black Hawk helicopter simulator to support pilot training for the Colombian Armed Services
“…as well as all Sikorsky military customers in Latin America. Structured as an offset program, the facility will be a launching point for development of Maintenance Repair and Overhaul services, spares and training center for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft.”
Dec 3/09: M1117s. A $45.6 million order for 39 of Textron’s stretched M1117 ICV model wheeled armored personnel carriers. Work will be performed in New Orleans, LA, with an estimated completion date of Nov 24/10. This may be a substitute for more BTR-80s. An April 2013 order eventually raises Colombia’s cavalry vehicle orders to 58. Read “M1117 Commando APC Armored Vehicles for Colombia for full coverage.
July 22/09: Kfir accident. An FAC Kfir flown by IAI pilots on a refresher flight skids off a runway near Cartagena, during a landing in rainy conditions. The pilots are fine, but the jet is badly damaged. Sources: Ha’aretz, “Israeli-made Kfir fighter jet crashes in Colombia on training flight, pilots unhurt”
June 22/09: Kfirs. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) delivers the first batch of upgraded C10 / C12 Kfir fighter jets to the Colombian Air Force, in a ceremony held at IAI’s facilities in Israel. IAI release.
June 18/09: K-767. IAI Bedek is reportedly preparing a KC-767 tanker conversion for Colombia’s Air Force, at a cost later revealed to be just $60 million. Because IAI Bedek holds an STC for its 767-200 conversion, the refueling pods can be removed, and the plane can be flown under civilian rules to any airport in the world. AIN Online:
“In the past Bedek undertook a successful tanker conversion program for the Boeing 707, for both the Israeli Defence Force and export customers… “Why would anyone buy a new aircraft?” asked Jack Gaber. IAI North America’s v-p for business development. “This is a much more cost-effective solution.” For a tanker modification 767s are first put through the cargo conversion, allowing the aircraft to act as a trooper and cargo transport, before the tanker equipment is installed. IAI has developed a flying boom for the centerline, and has designed and manufactured its own wing pods… The first order was announced just over a year ago. Although IAI refuses to comment on customers, it has been reported that the first aircraft is destined for Colombia. The single 767-200 is currently in the early stages of the conversion process, and is scheduled for delivery to the customer in the second quarter of next year.”
K-767 MMTT aerial tanker
April 28/09: UH-60. Your Industry News offers a follow-up report. It doesn’t mention the June 2007 order for 15 UH-60Ls, but does add 12 S-70 Arpia III attack helicopters to the total, a model derived from the UH-60 Blackhawk:
“Arpia III is the prime attack helicopter from the Colombian Air Force. The aircraft is an indigenous Sikorsky-build UH-60 Blackhawk design with GAU-19, LAU-19, radar, FLIR, and HUD. The Arpia IV which is passing tests in Israel right now may also be considered as the new attack helicopter. This aircraft could be armed with a 20mm Chain gun, Anti-tank missiles such as Spike and Hidra [sic] rockets.”
S-70 Arpia attack helos
March 3/09: Light Aircraft. Alliant Techsystems (ATK) announces a $14.4 million contract from the Colombian Air Force. They will to modify and deliver 3 MEDEVAC-capable aircraft – a HawkerBeechcraft King Air 350 and 2 Cessna 208B Grand Caravans – to Colombia’s Health and Social Services Ministry. The Ministry will use the aircraft for emergency medical evacuations of both civilian and military personnel.
The 3 planes are scheduled for delivery to Colombia by April 2009. They will be modified by ATK at its Special Mission Aircraft facility in Fort Worth, TX.
Additional Readings and Sources
Thanks to subscriber Inigo Guevara, author of Harpia Publishing’s Latin American Fighters, for his assistance.
* FAC – Kfir C10.
* DID – Planes, from Spain, to Colombia’s Gain. Now 6 C295s, 6 CN235s, and 6 C212s.
* DID – Colombia Finalizes Deal for Super Tucano COIN Aircraft. 25 EMB-314/ A-29 planes.
* DID – Colombia Orders UH-60L Helicopters, Saves Some Money. Orders also include the new S-70i.
* FAC Revisita Aeronautica (July 13/13) – Red Flag From the cabin of a Kfir.
* USAF Nellis AFB (July 24/12) – Colombia participates in Red Flag for first time.
* Colombia Report (Jan 27/09) – Colombia military to get US$4 billion upgrade