After spending almost a decade searching for a new multi-role fighter to replace its ageing Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Kfir C10/C12 fleet, Colombian President Gustavo Petro has announced that the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana (FAC; Colombian Air Force) will receive new jets in 2023.
While the newly elected Colombian president did not confirm which multi-role fighter had been selected to succeed the ageing Kfir C10/C12 fleet in service – which will reach the end of its viable service life in 2023 – during his speech at a promotion ceremony on December 17, the replacement is expected to be the Dassault Rafale. It has since been reported that Colombia will order 16 Rafales from France in total – the split between single- and two-seat aircraft has yet to be revealed – with a contract expected to be inked in early 2023, followed by initial deliveries later in the year.
During his earlier speech, Petro highlighted that the acquisition is necessary as it is dangerous for pilots to continue flying the Kfir, adding that the purchase of new fighters would not affect Colombia’s public finances as there are ‘grace periods’. The Rafale had not really been considered for the FAC until the Petro administration assumed power from the outgoing Iván Duque regime on August 7. Following this, Dassault formally threw its hat into the ring with its Rafale bid – backed by French President Emmanuel Macron – and the platform quickly became the favourite to succeed the Kfir in Colombian service.
Colombia’s quest for a new multi-role fighter started in 2012, but studies carried out by the FAC advised the government not to acquire new aircraft and to increase investment into the existing Kfir fleet. As part of the ‘Colosseum’ project, the Kfir fleet was upgraded to C10/C12 standard and integrating it with a new Elta EL/M-2032 multi-mode planar array fire control radar, electronic countermeasures, beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAMs) and Elbit’s Display and Sight Helmet System (DASH). The platform also received new weapons from Israel, including the I-Derby Extended Range (ER) and Python V BVRAAMs, along with the Spice 1000 precision-guided bomb. The ‘Colosseum’ project concluded in 2017.
Following this, a shortlist of candidate platforms was drawn up to evaluate three potential successors for the Kfir fleet. This comprised Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 Fighting Falcon, Saab’s JAS 39 Gripen E/F and the Eurofighter Typhoon. For a long time, the F-16 Block 70 was the strongest candidate and was favoured by the Duque government, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuous rejection of this proposal from opposition political parties made it impossible to seal the deal. As the new government assumed power, the resources needed for the acquisition were approved, but the F-16 was no longer the favoured successor, especially following the entry of Dassault’s Rafale bid.
As the Kfir fleet continues to increasingly suffer from decreasing operational availability rates, the need to expedite the type’s successor into service was a key factor in Colombia’s decision to select the Rafale, as it was the platform that could be delivered in the quickest possible time. As part of its Rafale bid, France has also reportedly removed some end-user restrictions to secure additional support from the Colombian government. The integration of MBDA Meteor BVRAAMs was also offered, as well as the integration of the aforementioned munitions that were added to the Kfir C10/C12’s arsenal during the ‘Colosseum’ project. Colombia will also be able to modify its Rafale fleet and will have access to the platform’s database. The Rafale will also reportedly share near equal operating costs with the Kfir.
Key.Aero would like to thank defensa.com for providing additional information on this story.