As its government and FARC rebel movement make progress towards ending more than 40 years of conflict, Colombia’s air force is planning to bolster its combat capabilities, with the purchase of an additional squadron of fighter aircraft.
Air force officials are now completing a study into potential candidates for the requirement, which air operations commander Brig Gen Eduardo Bueno Vargas says is likely to total 18 aircraft. To potentially include a mix of used and new-build airframes, these would be operated in concert with the service’s current Israel Aerospace Industries Kfir C10 strike platforms, he says.
US Air Force
Multiple types have been included in a potential candidate list, with Vargas identifying the Boeing F/A-18, Dassault Mirage 2000, Lockheed Martin F-16 and Sukhoi Su-30 as among a range of possible competitors at IQPC’s International Fighter conference in London on 14 November.
“We are performing an evaluation for the next Colombian fighter,” he says. “The study is almost ready – then we must wait for a political decision.”
The need to acquire a dedicated air superiority fighter was highlighted through Colombia’s deployment of eight Kfirs to the USA in 2012 to participate in a Red Flag-series air combat exercise flown from Nellis AFB in Nevada, Vargas says. “For us, it was something completely new and challenging,” he adds.
Colombia’s remaining Rockwell OV-10 Broncos are likely to remain operational for around another five years, Vargas says, before a multi-role replacement could be sought to work with its Embraer EMB-314/A-29 Super Tucanos. Operations with its Cessna A-37B Dragonfly counter-insurgency aircraft are expected to continue for some more years though, with the air force having recently acquired a low flight-hour example from Chile and to receive two more via the Dominican Republic.
Meanwhile, Vargas says the Colombian air force also has an interest in fielding an armed unmanned air system capability as part of its future force mix. This could initially involve adding air-to-surface weapons with its existing Elbit Systems Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 air vehicles, he says. The service also wants to field a new-generation airborne early warning and control system type, due to the age of its current one Boeing 707-based example.