SANTIAGO, Chile — Colombia has ordered 18 units of the 155mm howitzer Atmos from Israel’s Elbit Systems in a deal worth $101.7 million, military sources in Bogota told Defense News.

The decision came as a surprise for some observers who expected the contract to go to the Colombian Army’s preferred choice, the six-wheel drive Caesar made by French company Nexter.

During final negotiations, Nexter informed Colombia that the value of the potential deal would be $114 million, according to the military sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to talk to the media. That price was deemed too high compared to funding allocated to the acquisition program.

Nexter did not respond to a request for comment.

Colombia ultimately turned its attention to the Atmos, and the parties reached an agreement within budget.

The procurement of long-range howitzers is a key component of the military’s modernization efforts, with Colombian land forces lacking this kind of weapon. The Atmos is a truck-mounted, six-wheel drive, 155mm/52-caliber howitzer featuring a computerized fire control system with automatic modes.

“After decades focused mainly in counterinsurgency and fighting drug traffickers, Colombia is now engaged in upgrading and modernizing the conventional capabilities of its armed forces — in this case field artillery — at a breathtaking pace,” independent analyst Emilio Meneses told Defense News.

“The advances in detection and counter-battery fire nowadays demand that artillery systems must have a high mobility for fast deployment and immediate [movement] to a new position after firing to avoid the reaction of the enemy. Only wheeled howitzers provide such a high level of fast mobility,” Meneses added, noting that other regional nations will likely follow suit.

José Higuera is a Latin America correspondent for Defense News.

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