Colombian government intends to purchase Dassault Rafale fighter jets
December 23rd, 6:12 am
On December 21, 2022, it was announced that the Colombian government had provisionally selected the French Dassault Rafale fighter in a tender for the purchase of new aircraft to replace Israeli IAI Kfir C10 fighters in the Colombian Air Force. The decision was confirmed by Colombian President Gustavo Petro and Minister of National Defense Ivan Velazquez. The Colombian government is said to be in talks with France to acquire 16 F3-series Rafale C single-seat fighter jets, with a projected total cost of up to 15 trillion Colombian pesos ($3.148 billion). Appropriate budgetary appropriations are planned to be allocated within five years.
Colombian National Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez said in an interview with the Colombian Radio Caracol 6AM program that detailed negotiations are currently underway with the French side on the first stage of the contract, the signing of which is possible before the end of January 2023. At the first stage, within the limit of $678 million, it is planned to receive from three to five Rafale fighters with their delivery to the Colombian Air Force as early as 2023. Velázquez said it would take up to 10 years to purchase all 16 aircraft, and that the Air Force "could quickly get rid of" those first aircraft once the main contract was signed.
Based on this, we can conclude that at the first stage it is planned to purchase three to five Rafale fighters from the French Air Force with their subsequent replacement with new aircraft.
Currently, the basis of the combat potential of the Colombian Air Force are 19 modernized Israeli-made IAI Kfir C10 (Kfir COA) fighters and two combat training Kfir C12, which are in service with the 111th combat squadron of the 11th combat group of the 1st combat aviation command on Palanquero airfield (department of Cundinamarca, near the capital of Bogota). All these Kfir aircraft were purchased second-hand from the Israeli Air Force and are over 42 years old, close to the expiration of the resource and only about ten of the Kfir C10 single-seat fighters, as well as both "sparks", are in flight condition. In 2023, it is planned to start writing off the Colombian Kfir for the resource. In fact, for the past decade, the Colombian Air Force has been the world's only operator of Kfir aircraft (although there have been recent attempts to reintroduce this type of aircraft into service in Ecuador and Sri Lanka). Ivan Velasquez said Colombian Kfir's flight hour cost is now 89 million pesos ($18,700), 30% higher than Rafale's.
The issue of replacing Kfir aircraft with new fighters has been dragging on in Colombia for more than 15 years, but until now, for financial and political reasons, it has not been resolved. Since 2021, a new tender for the purchase of 16-17 fighters has been underway, which, in addition to Dassault Rafale, also considered Lockheed Martin F-16C / D Block 70 (F-16V) and Saab JAS-39E Gripen NG fighters, while the requirements of the Colombian side were aircraft of new production and a partial transfer of rights to their maintenance to Colombia. For a long time it was believed that the Colombian Air Force's favorite was the F-16C / D Block 70, but the American offer was actually the most expensive. Earlier in 2018-2020, the administration of the previous president, Ivan Duque, was close to purchasing used F-16s from the United States with their modernization, but the deal did not take place due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. On the whole, Colombia's choice of French Rafale aircraft as a country with traditionally strong US influence and receiving significant US military assistance was a sensation.
Elected in 2022, left-leaning President Gustavo Petro had previously opposed the new fighter program as "expensive", but quickly changed his position after taking office in August. Nevertheless, apparently, certain anti-American sentiments of the new leader played a role in the choice of a non-American aircraft. Although the Swedish Gripen NG was also popular in Colombian government circles (and reportedly backed by Minister of Defense Ivan Velazquez) and was offered by the Swedish side at a price of just 10 trillion pesos for 16 aircraft, however, the Saab AB group reportedly offered an unsatisfactory Colombian aside a very long delivery schedule.