Petro: the political effects of the renewal of the Air Force aircraft fleet – Government – Politics

With criticism on board, the renewal of the Kfir aircraft fleet currently used by the Colombian Air Force is a fact. President Gustavo Petro was in charge of ratifying the decision last weekend during the promotion ceremony for Army and Police officers.The process is underway and the Government has already opted for an option, although the final decision has not yet been made.

Precisely, this Wednesday, the Presidency reported that the limitations presented by the Kfir planes “make it difficult to take actions to guarantee aerial interdiction, the fight against organized crime and national sovereignty. For example, in an emergency situation, today a Kfir plane cannot have autonomy to go to San Andrés and return without the support of a tanker plane that supplies fuel during the flight.”

Therefore, the Government has already studied offers from three countries. Two of these are strategic allies of Colombia: France, with the Rafale planes, and the United States, with the F-16 planes. Sweden is the third bidder with the Gripen aircraft.

Casa de Nariño reported that after the analysis, the pre-selection of the proposal presented by the French Government has already been carried out. The idea, according to the official report, would be to acquire 16 planes and if the negotiation is closed, within five years the debt will begin to be paid, so as not to sacrifice other resources that are needed today.

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The Rafale fighter jet has a quick reaction alert.

According to the Government, in its official statement, this is the best proposal in relation to price, efficiency and operability: “One hour of flight of a Rafale plane is approximately 30% cheaper than the hour of flight of a Kfir (estimated at 89 million pesos)”.

However, the savings in the cost of flights, according to the offers the country has received, would be greater with both the F-16 and the Gripen.

However, the renewal of Kfir, which Petro rejected as a senator and later as a presidential candidate, is a necessity on which national security experts and now the new government agree.

The process began more than eight years ago and the Duque administration favored the most obvious partner: the United States and its F-16s, although the other offers were considered valid.

In factHigh commands of the Air Force favored the French Rafale and some analysts consider that the pre-selection of this aircraft could be a wink from the President to take care of his good relations with the Military Forces.

Sources close to the process also assure that in the meetings of the head of state with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, in Egypt and France, an additional push was given to advance the decision.

Presidents Gustavo Petro and Emmanuel Macron.

Although it is a matter of national security, the government’s decision will have effects on both internal and external policy. And a chapter that will require an additional effort from Colombian diplomacy will be that of the United States, which is the country’s main commercial and security partner, which, in addition, played hard to win the largest deal in the history of defense in Colombia. .

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An hour of flight of a Rafale plane is approximately 30% cheaper than the hour of flight of a Kfir (estimated at 89 million pesos)

Despite the fact that some sectors considered that the arrival of the first leftist president in the House of Nariño could affect relations with Washington, what has been seen is the opposite.

Proof of this is that in 2022, President Joe Biden and the US Congress authorized the disbursement of $471.3 million to spend through fiscal year 2022. This is the largest resource package approved for the country in the last decade and the fourth largest since Plan Colombia was authorized in 2000.

Of that money, some 40 million dollars are destined to support the Armed Forces. Buying the F-16, for many, was the most logical step to continue strengthening ties. But it looks like that won’t happen, so the question that remains is: Would completing the negotiation with France and not with the US affect relations in any way?

Air-air and air-ground training between F-16 aircraft of the United States Air Force (USAF) and KFIR of the Colombian Air Force (FAC).


Jaiver Nieto Álvarez / ETCE

For the associate professor of the Department of Political Science of the Universidad de los Andes, Sandra Borda, “That will be a problem for them.”

He explains that in the past it was taken for granted that such purchases were made with Washington. However, he points out that the planes offered by the United States are not new, they are more expensive and technically they are not the most suitable for the needs of the country.

To this is added that the transfer of technology, which according to the Government is one of the keys to deciding on the mega-contract, is not guaranteed with the F-16.

“They don’t share technical knowledge for these things, but you have to hire them all the time for the arrangements,” explains Borda, which makes the costs go up.

That is why many analysts point out that the main business of the sellers is not necessarily selling the plane, but everything that its maintenance and updates in terms of weapons and technology imply.

In the statement, the Presidency explained that “all the offers that Colombia has studied include ‘off-set’, understood as labor compensation. This means that Colombia would have transfer of knowledge and technology, for a greater growth of the aeronautical, cybersecurity and defense and aerospace sectors in the country”.

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Borda also affirms that it is striking that the Swedish option was not shortlisted, because, according to her, “technically and economically it seemed more solid.” Although the decision is not final, and the other two bidders continue to bid for the business, the analyst considers that it is difficult for the President to back down.

Yes actually, warns that the reaction to this from the North American country should not be very strongsince it says that “they cannot afford, at a time of such fragility of their presence in Latin America, to lose the traditional partner that we are.”

He affirms that President Petro is walking a tightrope with which we must be careful, because if the US puts a lot of pressure on him, he can go “to the other side and that is not convenient for them. They’ll have to swallow that toad. Borda describes the decision as risky, but considers that the head of state knows that he has a wide margin of maneuver.

add that Part of the president’s intention is to expedite this process before the figures for illicit crops in Colombia are published.because “hard pressure will come and I think that the United States is reserving itself for that, which in the end is the issue that interests and worries it the most,” he concludes.

internal splinters

Mauricio Jaramillo, PhD in Political Science and professor at the Universidad del Rosario, believes, on the contrary, that The decision may have an impact, but it will not be something major, since Colombia would not be buying from a rival of the United States.

“Now, if Petro comes out tomorrow to say that we are going to buy Sukhoi planes as Venezuela did with Chávez at the beginning of the century, it could be a problem because there is great tension with Russia,” he says.

At this point, it must be taken into account, as Jaramillo explains, that Colombia is far from Russia selling planes, so this scenario is not likely.

On the other hand, he says that it is normal for countries to change suppliers and, after all, the supplying countries have a good relationship with the US. “They are friendly competitors,” he says. In addition, he explains that he does not consider that the North American country sees the aircraft market in Colombia guaranteed, on the contrary, he understands that it is a tough competition.

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The left pays dearly for the little knowledge it has in defense and security, which is the great Achilles heel of the left in Latin America.

But above all, it ensures that For the United States, there are bigger issues that could affect the relationship such as decisions that have to do with the fight against drug trafficking, the relationship with Venezuela, the defense of the environment and migrants. “The United States is not going to damage the relationship over this,” he explains.

However, for Jaramillo, the political effects that the decision could have will be seen more in the country.

“The fight is more with the internal opposition and a sector of the left that does not forgive him for the position that the Historical Pact assumed when that change of plans was going to be made in the Duque era,” he says.

It exposes that the greatest effect will be seen in the fracture that can be generated in the bases of the Historical Pact
, since they had always been opposed to large purchases of military equipment. Including Petro himself.

These objections from important figures in the coalition are already starting to open some cracks. One of the key men of the Pact in Congress, Roy Barreras —president of the Senate— affirmed that “the young people did not march for war planes but for justice and social inclusion”. He argued that although he knows the limitations of the air fleet, the new international conditions “postpone that urgency.”

Iván Cepeda, also from the Pact, opined that he rejects “in principle the use of weapons, their production and purchase. I have always opposed that and will continue to do so. Even the son of the President, the deputy for Atlántico Nicolás Petro, rejected the situation. “I do not agree with the purchase of combat aircraft. Everything for peace, nothing for war,” he stated.

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Roy Barreras and Ivan Cepeda.


For Jaramillo, these rejections of some congressmen to purchases is a sign that the “left pays dearly for the little knowledge it has in defense and security, which is the great Achilles heel of the left in Latin America. He happens to Boric, it happened more or less to Lula at the time. This is the strong point of the right”.

He says that the government is paying the price, because when it was in opposition “it was unable to understand that the renewal of the fleet was not done for reasons of the arms race or to show its teeth to Venezuela or because we are going to war with Nicaragua.” , but because it is a necessity even within the objective of ‘total peace’”.

Jaramillo concludes that while Petro “will pay a price in terms of supporting the Historic Pact,” he has “the back to fight that fight.”

Aura Saavedra Alvarez

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