Colombia aims for 20 twin engine fighters as Kfir COA replacements

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As we recently published, an important push has been made by aerospace manufacturers considering the Colombian AF’s intention to replace the IAI Kfir COA’s in service. Among the options that have been publicly recognized are Airbus’s Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin’s F-16V Block 70 and SAAB’s JAS-39 Gripen NG.

Defense analyst Erich Saumeth, in talks with colombian congressmen has been confirmed that the focus of the AF is on 20 twin-engine heavyweight multirole fighters. For that purpose, the early list of which we have been reporting about would leave a single contender, the Eurofighter Typhoon. Still, another candidate may be behind the curtain and most likely related both to a specific Colombian interest and another way to reinforce Colombian – U.S. relations, Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet.

The “Rhino”, as known in USN service, would be an interesting option considering its naval conception with salt resistant airframe, engines and a very strong landing gear. This is required for both, catapult assisted take-off and arrested wire landings on aircraft carriers. Reinforced and enduring components would require less maintenance in conventional AF’s contexts and would provide a longer lifetime. For example, Australian legacy Hornets which did not participate in aircraft carrier operations have been sold to Canada to be incorporated to the Royal Canadian Air Force with a considerable lifespan.

No actual talks between Boeing and the Colombian AF have been recognized as of yet, but provisions and the necessary congressional approval shouldn’t be considered unlikely.  As some of you might recall, Boeing’s Super Hornet has been offered to the FX-2 fighter program (which SAAB won) for the Brazilian AF. Colombia is interested in a heavyweight fighter in order to guarantee a qualitative military edge (QME) compared to current and upcoming neighboring fighters, also with the range and provisions to perform air operations over the sea and to be compatible with their tanker and fighter’s probe-and-drogue air to air refueling system.

Still, many concerns arise upon budget cuts that would affect their readiness although the political and financial support needed for a heavyweight fighter acquisition seems to be in place. Current Kfir’s 50% availability rate is due to a mix of situations, both the budget cuts and high costs in supporting the aircraft. Kfir COA’s are aircraft built in 1970/1980s on a 1950’s designed airframe of which neither the aircraft nor the engines are still in production. None the less, still with a modern set of avionics and weapons.

Upon recent statements, Argentina and Chile’s air forces are also interested in similar type of aircraft but both economic and political reasons will push back such decisions. Chile has decided to upgrade at the highest standard their F-16’s fleet based on legacy A/B MLU’s purchased in Netherlands and C/D purchased brand new a little over ten years ago. Argentina is looking forward to replacing both A-4 Skyhawks (still in service) and Dassault Mirage III/V’s (scrapped in late 2015) with a license built or locally assembled KAI FA-50’s and later to acquire a complementary heavyweight fighter. Airbus has offered to both of them, brand new Eurofighter Typhoons as well as Tranche I versions in service both in Spain and Austria. Considering the ongoing restrictions and pending sovereignty talks with the U.K. regarding the Malvinas Islands and other South Atlantic islands would require an extensive and very expensive as well, components replacement and support guarantees for the Typhoon to be for a fact in service.

Thus, provided no U.K. components and/or “special relationship” backed vetoes, the Argentine AF would embrace a Boeing’s Super Hornet acquisition. Yet, some might consider this as wishful thinking contemplating the external debt rate plus the current political and financial turmoil after general presidential primaries results of last Sunday.

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