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Speculative reports circulating in the press have led the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana (FAC - Colombian Air Force) to make a public statement on 23 July, identifying potential candidates for replacement of its KFIR air defence fighters.

According to MON sister publication The World Defence Almanac 2018, the entire fleet of 19 single-seat KFIR has been upgraded to the C-60 (Block 60) standard by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), including the installation of a ‘zero hour’ J79 engine and an Elta EL/M-2032 active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar. An additional pair of two-seater variants have apparently been acquired from Israeli surplus. Despite this, the FAC has spent four years analysing the technical, operational and logistical factors that would help identify the most suitable replacement.

Admitting that the KFIR has the requisite capability to be able to conduct its territorial air defence mission, the FAC further points to the fact that the aircraft’s capabilities have allowed it to participate in joint exercises such as Red Flag in the US – exercises that demand rigorous standards of interoperability with partner forces.

Nonetheless, the age of the fleet – including fatigue life – the sustainability of the associated equipment and support infrastructure and the constantly shifting cost/benefit ratio have persuaded FAC that a replacement is now a priority, which has been reflected in the establishment of a formal Aircraft Replacement Plan. The service states that Spain, Sweden and the United States have all made formal offers for new-build (and in some cases surplus) aircraft – the Eurofighter TYPHOON, GRIPEN C/D and F-16 respectively. Israel also apparently offered F-16s upgraded to the Block 50 standard last year.

MON understands from observers of Latin American military affairs that – given Minister of Defence Guillermo Botero’s statement to Congress last year that a proposed $370 million procurement of air defence missiles was unaffordable – it is unlikely the government will be able to find the reported $1+ billion required for such a programme. The FAC, however, is currently conducting an evaluation of all three aircraft, according to the July statement, with a view to making a recommendation to government for subsequent decision-making.

A Colombian KFIR with a US F-16, one of the aircraft under evaluation to replace the Israeli airframe. (Photo via Wikipedia Commons)

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