The USA is to fund the modification of two Colombian air force Fairchild C-26 Merlins to enable them to track and intercept aircraft smuggling cocaine from illegal laboratories in south eastern Colombia to the coast for shipment to the USA.

The modified aircraft will be identical to radar-equipped interceptors which supported the Peruvians in their successful air denial operation against the Peru-Colombia air bridge, says the US Department of Defense.

The twin-turboprop aircraft will be equipped with Northrop Grumman APG-66 air-to-air radars, forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensors and communications equipment. Modifications should be completed by the third quarter of next year.

The DoD will also fund the installation of a FLIR on one of three operational Colombian air force Douglas AC-47 gunships and the conversion of an additional DC-3 to an AC-47, with FLIR, night-vision cockpit and fire-control systems. The gunships are used to strafe drug-trafficking aircraft. The additional conversion will replace an AC-47 lost an during an operation last month. The air force plans a fleet of five AC-47s.

The upgrades are part of a US support package for Colombian counter-narcotics operations which include 16 more Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks and 30 more Bell UH-1HPHuey IIs. The DoD will also fund infrastructure improvements to enable Colombia to support the additional aircraft.

The USaid package includes installation of an ex-DoD TPS-70 ground-based radar at Tres Equinas to monitor air activity and control counter-narcotics aircraft in the Putomayo region, where over 70% of Colombia's coca cultivation occurs. A command and control system will be installed in Bogota to handle air interdiction operations across Colombia.

Source: Flight International