February 1, 2006 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Chile received the first two of 10 F-16C block 50 Peace Puma aircraft from the U.S. on Tuesday, part of a major military upgrade that has worried some of its South American neighbors despite assurances that the country is only renewing obsolete equipment.
Over the next 10 months, the Chilean air force will receive eight additional F-16 C and D model aircraft from the contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. The 10 aircraft sale, munitions and maintenance -- all part of the "Peace Puma" program -- is worth $547 million.
The Air Force worked with the Chilean government, the Chilean air force and the defense contractor to broker the aircraft sale as the latest improvement in the long-term relationship between the two nations' air forces, said Bruce S. Lemkin, Air Force deputy undersecretary for international affairs.
Included in the purchase are joint direct attack munitions, or JDAMs
heat-seeking missiles, and advanced medium range air-to-air missiles, or AMRAAMs.
The Air Force will conduct F-16 flying training with Chilean pilots. In addition, "train-the-trainer" instruction will enable the Chileans to train their own pilots. The Air Force and contractor will also provide maintenance training, Mr. Lemkin said.
The acquisition of the F-16s is part of a major military upgrade that has worried some of its South American neighbors despite assurances that the country is only renewing obsolete equipment.
ordered the planes after the United States ended a 20-year ban on the sale of high-tech weaponry in Latin America. The new F-16s were not yet equipped with the latest high-tech missiles, in keeping with a U.S. policy not to be the first to introduce new military technology to a region.
President Ricardo Lagos insisted that Chile is not breaking the regional military balance as he spoke at a reception ceremony for the fighter planes at a military airport near Santiago.
"What we are doing is just replacing material that has completed its useful life," Lagos said.
The president noted that Chile has informed neighboring countries about all its purchases, which also include 18 more secondhand F-16s from the Dutch air force.
Chile is the second South American country to purchase the F-16 after Venezuela
The purchases have been aided by booming copper prices as there is a law that gives the armed forces 10 percent of Chile's copper sales abroad. Chile is the world's largest copper exporter.
Air Force Commander Gen. Osvaldo Sarabia said the F-16s, which will replace the force's French-made Mirages, will be stationed in the northern port city of Iquique.