Colombia has suspended its replacement tactical combat aircraft competition, officially because of budget problems, but amid allegations of misconduct and pressure from the US government.

Defence minister Martha Lucia Ramirez says the Colombian air force's $234 million procurement has been suspended owing to more pressing budgetary needs. The air force requires 24 turboprop-powered light attack aircraft for counter-insurgency and counter-drug operations to replace Rockwell OV-10A/D Broncos and Cessna A-37Cs.

Ramirez says: "The only thing we intend to do is modernise existing aircraft in the air force's inventory." She adds that "possibly in two years we will have the need to acquire combat aircraft, but not before the country's financial situation has improved."

Persistent local reports indicate that the government's decision is the result of US pressure. Local press has also published reports alleging misconduct by some of the bidders.

Colombia issued a request for proposals in early September, although the air force had started evaluating possible candidates nearly two years earlier.

Types being considered include the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, Korean Aerospace Industries KO-1, Pilatus PC-21 and Raytheon T-6A. There have been indications that Embraer's selection was to be announced by the Colombian defence ministry later this month.

The head of the US Southern Command, Lt Gen James Hill, was reported by a Brazilian newspaper to be advising the Colombian defence ministry against purchasing light strike aircraft. He reportedly suggested the air force's interests would be better served by implementing a C-130 modernisation programme and that a $34 million OV-10 and A-37 refurbishment programme would satisfy the FAC's counter-insurgency and counter-drug requirements. He also reportedly warned that a light strike procurement programme might run foul of the US Congress and jeopardise its approval of Bogota's future military expenditure under the US-funded Colombia Plan initiative.

Source: Flight International