Forces: August 25, 2005

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Many of the countries in South America have invested in airpower. In some cases, these are planes that are kept around as long as possible usually with upgrades. These countries often cannot afford to get the latest and greatest airplanes, but they still have air forces of note, and some of them are now modernizing.

Chile has recently purchased 6 F-16Cs and 4 F-16Ds. They are also planning to replace 16 aging Mirage 50 fighters with about 20 second-hand F-16As (with a mid-life upgrade) from the Netherlands. Chiles air force also features 12 upgraded F-5Es, 34 A-37  attack planes, and 19 CASA C-101 close-air support aircraft.

Bolivias air force has a dozen T-33 light attack aircraft. These 12 planes, a two-seat variant of the F-80 Shooting Star, along with four PC-7s, is the extent of their combat force. The bulk of the Bolivian Air Force consists of liaison aircraft, mostly from Cessna, and 36 UH-1 helicopters.

Argentina has a potent air force that has had combat experience in the Falklands War. This is a force that has been modernizing. Most of its combat strength lies in the A-4AR, an A-4 Skyhawk equipped with the APG-66 radar from the F-16A. The Argentinean Air Force has 36 A-4AR aircraft in service. Argentina also has 13 Mirage III fighters and 29 Pucara counter-insurgency aircraft.

Colombia has a smaller air force, primarily designed around counter-insurgency. The only high-performance combat aircraft in Colombias Air Force are 10 Mirage 5s and 12 IAI Kfir C7s. The Colombian Air Force has 12 T-37s, 25 A-37s, and 22 OV-10A for counter-insurgency strikes.

Perus air force is one of the more modern in South America. It has a mixture of American, French, and Russian aircraft. The most modern aircraft are 16 to 28 MiG-29s, 14-24 Su-25s, and 10 Mirage 2000. Peru also has 38 Su-22s, 12 Mirage 5, and 35 A-37 COIN aircraft in service. This is a large and capable air force.

Perus neighbor Ecuador has a smaller air force. It operates 13 Mirage F-1A, 20 A-37B, 16 Kfir, 10 Hunting Strikemasters, and 11 Jaguars in five squadrons. This mix of French, British, Israeli, and American aircraft are primarily oriented towards ground attack. Only the Mirage F-1As are capable of air-superiority missions.

Brazils air force is slated for some major modernization in the near future. Currently, the force consists of 15 Mirage III air superiority fighters, 45 F-5E, and 33 A-1 attack aircraft. The Brazilian Air Force also is capable at maritime patrol with 21 EMB-111s and 9 P-3A/Bs. The Brazilian Navy also has a potent air arm with 23 A-4KUs flying off the carrier Sao Paulo. Brazil is pursuing a new fighter buy, with four aircraft (the Mirage 2000, the F-16C Block 52, the JAS 39 Gripen, and the Su-35) competing for an order that could go as high as 108 aircraft.

Finally, a look at Venezuelas air force is in order. Currently, Venezuelas combat air arm consists of 15 Mirage 50, 18 F-16A/B, 18 F-5A, and 15 OV-10A counter-insurgency aircraft. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez is looking to acquire modern aircraft from Russia, with the MiG-29 SMT being the apparent front-runner.

The best of these air forces, by a significant margin, is the Brazilian Air Force. This is a country that has made some of its frontline aircraft, and is modernizing very quickly. It also has significant quantity as well. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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