Spain is to provide Colombia with military assistance including aircraft, ships, other equipment and an exchange of intelligence data. The head of the Colombian air force, however, is unhappy about the transfer of fighter aircraft.

The package includes eight Dassault Mirage F1EDA/DDA fighters and two EADS Casa 212 utility transports configured for medical evacuation. The deal was finalised during a visit by Colombian defence minister Martha Lucía Ramírez de Rincón to Spain at the end of last month.

The two defence ministries are also to discuss the transfer of Bell UH-1Hutility helicopters previously operated by the Spanish army. The helicopters are due to be configured for the surveillance role.

Colombia is understood to have been offered the choice of the Mirage F1s or McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantoms. The air force operates neither type, but has flown the Dassault Mirage 5 for several years.

Colombian air force chief Gen Héctor Fabio Velasco began expressing dissatisfaction almost as soon as the deal was announced.

Although the aircraft will be acquired for a nominal value, Velasco says that the aircraft will be too expensive to operate and maintain. They were put into storage by the Spanish air force in August last year. The fighters were acquired by Spain from Qatar in 1994 and 1997, and are due to be overhauled in Spain before they are delivered.

Velasco was a strong supporter of Colombia's recently shelved light strike aircraft acquisition (Flight International, 26 November-2 December 2002). He is also expressing doubts about the suitability of the Mirages to perform what is essentially a counter-insurgency role.

Source: Flight International