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Colombian Air Force modernises but future of Kfirs remains unclear

30th July 2020 - 16:00 GMT | by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez in Washington DC

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Colombia has concluded the modernisation of its EMB-312 Tucano aircraft; this successful project generally puts the Colombian Air Force (FAC) in good shape as it has a  mix of efficient fixed-wing and rotary platforms that were recently acquired or upgraded.

Colombian aerospace company CIAC was tasked with upgrading the 14 Tucanos (designated T-27 in Colombian service). The first delivery took place in 2014 and the last platform was delivered last month. 

CIAC believes the Tucano fleet now has an additional 15-20 years of operational life. There are indications that the FAC is also looking to replace its old T-37B Tweet and A-37 Dragonfly aircraft, while an old 337 Skymaster was decommissioned in mid-July.

In terms of rotary platforms, in 2019 the FAC formalised the transfer of 60 TH-67 Creek helicopters, which were delivered by the US and are in service at the Colombian national helicopter training centre.  Helicopter pilots from other Latin American countries also attend this institution, making it an important initiative for FAC in order to develop friendships with defence and security personnel from across the region.

Similarly, FAC has upgraded its fleet of UH-1H helicopters, which are now designated as Huey II – one crashed in February, killing three crew.

The big question is the future of the fleet of 21 Kfir fighter aircraft, which form the spearhead of the FAC’s strike power. Potential replacements include the Eurofighter Typhoon, F-16 and Gripen – but the air force is unlikely to pick a replacement for the Kfir soon, given the cost of such a project. Colombia simply cannot afford a big-ticket fighter programme while COVID-19 ravages the economy.

Apart from tensions with Venezuela, the main security threat to Colombia continues to be internal, as security and defence forces combat drug cartels and insurgent movements.

FAC platforms are heavily utilised for humanitarian assistance and other emergency operations. For example, Black Hawk helicopters routinely carry water-filled ‘bambi buckets’ to combat wildfires, and one of the upgraded Huey II helicopters recently conducted a medevac mission in Caqueta.

Similarly, the FAC is using its C295 transport aircraft, among others, on missions to help deal with COVID-19. By mid-July, FAC aircraft (including UAVs) had flown 2,353 hours in COVID-related operations.

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Wilder Alejandro Sanchez

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Wilder Alejandro Sanchez


Wilder Alejandro Sánchez is an analyst who covers defense & security, geopolitical, and trade issues …

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