Colombia favors French fighter jets to replace aging Kfirs

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The French-made fighter jet Rafale. Photo: Airliners.Net
The French-made fighter jet Rafale. Photo: Airliners.Net

Colombian President Gustavo Petro is opting for the French aerospace manufacturer Dassault to upgrade the country’s air defenses. At an investment of US$3.15 billion (COP$15 billion), and almost the total amount that the recently-passed Reforma Tributaria will raise next year in sweeping tax hikes, President Petro had sharply criticized his predecessor President Iván Duque for proposing to replace the country’s aging Kfirs with equally modern, yet more affordable, alternatives.

“Colombia has pre-selected the French government’s offer for the sale of 16 [Dassault] Rafales,” highlighted a statement from the presidency, adding that potential sale is part of a “preliminary negotiation.” According to Defense Minister Iván Velásquez, the Rafale is “the best option, given price, efficiency and operability.”

The issue to replace Colombia’s fleet of Kfirs was raised during the second term of President Juan Manuel Santos (2014-2018), but shelved to preserve a “spirit of dialogue and good will” between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla as peace talks were taking place in Havana, Cuba.

The urgency, however, to replace the Kfir is almost a decade late, and the pre-selected Rafales come at a time when Colombia faces no external threats from belligerent states as the political pendulum across most of South America is well-positioned on toward the left.

With full diplomatic relations restored between Colombia and neighboring Venezuela, as well as open mobility as of January 1 to all cargo, public transportation and private vehicles, through overland borders, the Colombian Government of the first leftist President claims to have received offers to replace the Kfir with U.S made F-16s, Sweden’s Saab Gripens and British Aerospace Eurofighter Typhoons.

The Israeli-built Kfir arrived in Colombia in 1989 and 23 jets are currently operational at FAC’s Palanquero air base, near Puerto Salgar, Cundinamarca.

Accordng to aviation experts – Aviationonline – “to pay for the first part of the acquisition, the Colombian Ministry of Defense had an available budget of US$678 million agreed during the previous administration through a CONPES (National Council for Economic and Social Policy) document. CONPES has an expiration date of December 31, 2022, and without these funds, Colombia’s Air Force – FAC – will have to put the Kfir replacement program on hold.