SANTIAGO, Chile — Colombia’s Air Force has chosen a mix of TA-50 and FA-50 Golden Eagles as its next jet trainers, military sources told Defense News.
The Air Force plans to acquire at least 20 advanced jet trainers with air-to-air and air-to-ground combat capabilities under a project estimated to be worth $600 million.
The Air Force has denied negotiations are underway to procure the Golden Eagle variants, made by Korea Aerospace Industries. But local sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press, said the Colombian government has acknowledged the Air Force’s preference for the South Korean aircraft and has insisted negotiations with KAI also involve Leonardo.
The Italian firm was shortlisted during the competition process and had offered its M-346 advanced jet/lead-in fighter trainer. The inclusion of competitors is meant to help Colombia negotiate the best deal.
Colombia is buying new aircraft to replace its Cessna A-37B Dragonfly twin-engine, light-attack jets, which were retired in June 2021. They were used in both counterinsurgency missions and as tactical trainers. The new aircraft are also expected to temporarily fill a capability gap left by the aging fleet of Israeli-made Kfir jets, Colombia’s main combat aircraft. The Air Force is to begin retiring its Kfirs in 2023, most likely without a replacement on hand.
Fitted with ELM-052 active electronically scanned array radars from Israeli firm Elta Systems and armed with beyond-visual-range Derby missiles from Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Colombia’s Kfirs are among the top operational fighters in South America. But maintenance and operation costs have grown too expensive, leading to limits on flight hours and forcing the Air Force to decline invitations to international exercises, such as Red Flag in the U.S.
This would not be the first time Colombia and South Korea work together. Colombia was one of the countries that contributed troops to United Nations efforts in the Korean War.
In 2012, the Colombian Navy ordered an undisclosed number of South Korean-made SSM-700K anti-ship missiles to upgrade its four German-built Padilla-class ships. And in 2014 and in 2020, the South Korean Navy donated secondhand corvettes to its Colombian counterpart.
The Golden Eagle was developed in collaboration with Lockheed Martin in the late 1990s and first introduced into service in 2005. It is powered by a General Electric F404 turbofan, can reach speeds of Mach 1.5 and has a flight range of 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles). It can be armed with short-range, infrared-guided air-to-air missiles and air-to-ground weapons. There are plans to integrate the beyond-visual-range missiles AIM-120 and Derby as well as light AESA radar technology.
José Higuera is the Latin America correspondent for Defense News.