SANTIAGO, Chile — Colombia is negotiating the purchase of 16 Rafale multirole fighter jets for its Air Force, a deal potentially worth $3.15 billion, according to a news release from the country’s president.
After local media recently reported negotiations with the French aircraft manufacturer Dassault were underway, Colombian President Gustavo Petro issued a statement confirming the information. However, he also noted that two other offers remain under consideration, and that Dassault’s bid was only preselected as Colombia’s preferred option.
Earlier this month, the president had announced during a military ceremony that the country would soon replace its Israeli-made Kfir jets, which are more than 40 years old and approaching the end of their service lives. According to the president’s news release, the operation and maintenance of the Kfirs “have become very expensive and also risky,” as not enough of them remain operational around the world, which makes it difficult to obtain spare parts.
Petro added that the cost of procuring the Kfir replacements “is not going to use a single dime” from funds earmarked for social investment.
Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez later explained that funding will come from a 20-year credit provided by the French government, which includes a grace period of five years before the start of payments.
The other two offers under consideration are the F-16 Block 70 from American company Lockheed Martin, and the Gripen NG from Sweden’s Saab.
Colombia’s Air Force has shown interest in the F-16, but officials are concerned over what they consider restrictive conditions associated with acquiring missiles under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, local military sources told Defense News on the condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to discuss the topic.
The U.S. State Department did not return requests for comment on Colombia’s missile ambitions.
As for the Gripen NG, the military sources said it’s considered here to be a lightweight and less capable fighter than the alternative options. While the aircraft is cheaper that the other offerings, Saab’s financial conditions are not as generous, with a shorter grace period and payment schedule. The Swedish contractor also offered cheaper refurbished and upgraded secondhand aircraft, but Colombia declined.
Emilio Meneses, an independent analyst based in Santiago, Chile, told Defense News that Petro has surprised observers with his defense acquisition efforts.
“Against what was expected from him and his left-leaning background, he has launched two big military programs — to build frigates and to procure new fighter jets. He is raising the strategic profile of Colombia in South America,” Meneses said.
José Higuera is a Latin America correspondent for Defense News.