Sweden’s Saab is offering its Gripen fighter jets to the Colombian Air Force to replace its aging fleet of Israeli-made Kfir combat aircraft.
Colombia is looking to upgrade its multi-role fighters. According to reports in Jane’s, Saab offered Colombia 12 single-seat Gripen E and three dual-seat Gripen F fighter jets.
While Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is offering its upgraded Kfir Next-Generation (NG), according to Jane’s, other competition to replace the Kfir Block 60s currently flown by the Colombians includes Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 Fighting Falcon jets and the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Manufactured at the Lahav Division of the Military Aircraft Group in Israel, the Kfirs are based on the French Mirage 5 planes, which Paris refused to sell to Israel due to an arms embargo imposed by the government of Charles de Gaulle after the 1967 Six Day War.
While it is an Israeli-built jet, the Kfir had a short operational history with the Israel Air Force, entering service in 1975 and being withdrawn from service in the late 1990s, just about 20 years later.
Nevertheless, the Kfir has been sold to the air forces of Sri Lanka, Colombia and Ecuador. The planes are also used by ATAC, an American civilian company that provides enemy staging and trials for the US Navy.
Designed as a versatile, all-weather multi-role supersonic combat jet, it can fly at an altitude of 30,000 meters with a maximum speed of 2,285 km/h and a range of 1,300 km. It has a maximum take-off weight of 14,600 kg., and can carry several air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, bombs and other munitions.
Colombia first purchased the Kfirs from IAI in 1989, and they were widely used during counter-insurgency operations against Colombian militants.
In November 2013, two Colombian Air Force IAI Kfirs intercepted Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-160 bombers that had entered Colombian airspace from Venezuela. The Russian jets had taken off from Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar Airport and were flying to the Nicaraguan capital of Managua when they crossed into Colombia airspace over its San Andres y Providencia Archipelago in the Caribbean Sea.
In 2017, IAI upgraded the Colombian Air Force’s 22 Kfir jets, fitting them with an expanded range of weapons and sensors as well as new model numbers.
The ceremony, which took place at the CACOM1 air base in Palanquero, Colombia, was attended by IAI’s management team, representatives of Colombia’s Ministry of National Defense, Colombia’s Air Force commander, and the staff of Israel’s Embassy in Colombia.
“This project is of prime importance for Colombia’s air force, and is another great example of our long-standing collaboration with IAI, including important integrations of key, challenging features,” General Carlos Eduardo Bueno, commander of Colombia’s air force, said at the time. “The combination of radar, communication and advanced technologies has made the Kfir squadron the leader that it is.”
IAI CEO Joseph Weiss said at the ceremony that the upgrades to the Colombian Kfir jets with cutting edge avionics, advanced weapon and self-protection systems, air refueling and other features, “make it one of the most efficient aerial war machines in the world. IAI plans to keep the Colombian government and air force as its close ally; we will continue our very successful collaboration, improve the systems, and add new capabilities for our shared mission of keeping the Colombian Armed Forces as a force to be reckoned with.”