SANTIAGO, Chile — Colombia has asked the U.S. about procuring secondhand M1A2 Abrams tanks to bolster the armored capacity of its land forces, local military sources have told Defense News.

Colombia is currently on a path to becoming a major non-NATO ally of the U.S., with President Joe Biden in March announcing the process has begun.

The Colombian Army currently has no main battle tanks. The main armored vehicle in its inventory is the Brazilian-built Engesa EE-9 Cascavel, a six-wheel drive armored truck fitted with a 90mm gun, of which 123 were bought in the 1980s.

Plans to procure at least 50 main battle tanks were unveiled about 20 years ago. The country’s focus on upgrading and diversifying its conventional capabilities comes after decades of prioritizing equipment and training to fight terrorism, insurgencies and drug trafficking.

One of the factors driving these efforts is tension with neighboring Venezuela, a country that in the last two decades invested heavily in procuring modern military equipment from Russia and China, including T-72B1V main battle tanks and Sukhoi Su-30 fighter-bomber jets.

Colombia is also looking for a new advanced fighter-bomber to replace its Israeli-built Kfir jets that are reaching the end of their service lives. The Lockheed Martin F-16 — both secondhand and new-built advanced Block 70 versions — are under consideration.

Colombia’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment, and military sources spoke to Defense News on the condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The status of a major non-NATO ally of the U.S. will entitle Colombia to receive special treatment when it comes to American financial aid and access to surplus materiel. It would also help Colombian President Iván Duque fulfill a promise he made in 2018 to modernize the armed forces.

Closely aligned with the U.S. since the 1940s, Colombia received $10 billion in American military aid between 2001 and 2016 to fight insurgents and drug trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department. In 2017, Colombia became NATO’s first Latin American global partner, and in 2021 it signed a new agreement deepening and expanding cooperation with the alliance.

Colombia is the second-largest defense spender in South America, behind Brazil, helped by the expansion of its economy that saw gross domestic product grow 36% since 2012, according to Robin Brooks, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance.

José Higuera is a Latin America correspondent for Defense News.

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