The Chilean air force (FACh) is being offered an in-flight refuelling tanker by the US Government to support its planned purchase of Lockheed Martin F-16C/D fighters, but issues surrounding financing and armament for the new fighters still need to be resolved.

After much delay Santiago has approved the FACh's selection of the F-16C/D Block 50 Plus after a further round of "best and final" tendering late last year. Dassault offered the Mirage 2000-5 and Saab/BAE Systems the Gripen.

Selection of the F-16 has drawn criticism within Chilean defence circles, particularly over Washington's refusal to supply a beyond visual range missile until a comparable weapon appears elsewhere in the region. The aircraft instead will be equipped for the Rafael Python 4 short range missile and for, but not with, the Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM missile.

To allay criticism of the F-16's in-flight refuelling configuration, the USA is offering a boom-equipped Boeing KC-135 tanker as part of the package. The FACh supports its Northrop F-5s, Dassault Mirage 5/50s and Cessna A-37s with two 707 tankers, which need replacing. Chile hopes to order an initial 10 F-16s and to receive the first pair by 2003/04. The total is yet to be finalised and hinges on the price of copper, the country's main export earner. The FACh draws procurement funds of $70 million a year from copper revenue and it wants to finance theF-16 deal over the next 12-years.

The FACh is budgeting around $600 million for the aircraft plus $100 for equipment, including Israeli datalinks and electronic warfare systems. No selection has been made between the General Electric F110 or Pratt & Whitney F100 engines.

Chile will initially replace the A-37s, but additional fighters will be needed if it is to replace Mirages and F-5s. The F-16s will be equipped with the Northrop Grumman APG-68(V)XM radar and 2,275litre (600USgal) conformal fuel tanks.

Source: Flight International