The Chilean Air Force ordered a total of 10 new block 50 F-16 Fighting Falcons. These aircraft will be supplemented by 36 second-hand F-16A/B MLU aircraft, which Chile purchased from the Netherlands.
On August 1st, 1997, Lockheed Martin Corp. was allowed to provide detailed F-16 data to Chile for its fighter program, after a last-minute White House announcement liberalizing advanced arms sales (which had been banned for the last 20 years to Latin America). The White House ruled the United States would examine new arms sales to the region on a case-by-case basis, ending self imposed restriction on selling advanced military hardware to the region. Chile set a deadline of August 7th for the US firm to provide information needed to make a choice among the Swedish JAS-39 Gripen, the French Mirage 2000 or Rafale and the F-16. The latter is thought to be the strongest contender and the eventual order would be for 18-24 aircraft.
Critics of the policy reversal contend that this will lead to a new South American arms race, apparently forgetting that Venezuela already operates the F-16. Lockheed is very happy however, hoping to add to the 400 plus aircraft order backlog it currently has for the F-16.
In March 1997, salespeople at Lockheed Martin were nervously eyeing economic conditions in Chile, hoping that a drop in copper prices (Chile's defense agencies receive about 10% of all copper exports) and Asian-related troubles would not upset a potentially lucrative sale of F-16 fighters. Since last fall, the price of copper, Chile's No. 1 export and the source of much of its military spending cash, dropped by a third. Also, exports of Chile's salmon and abalone to Japan and other Asian nations have fallen in recent months due to Asia's economic troubles.
Chile has been forced to devalue its currency, the peso, and raise interest rates twice since January 1st. The International Monetary Fund warned last month that the nation, which enjoyed strong economic growth in the past decade, must 'tighten' its policies because of the its vulnerability to Asia's economic slowdown.
In addition to its economic concerns, Chile suddenly changed defense ministers. This means that everything is put on hold while the new person is brought up to speed.
In April 1998, the Chilean government requested details of financing proposals from companies bidding for its multi-billion dollar multi-role fighter requirement. Lockheed Martin already signed an agreement with Chilean national aeronautics company ENAER to provide 900,000 labor-hours on the fuselage, engine-bay doors and non-aircraft-related work if selected.
On December 27th, 2000, the Chilean government finally decided to purchase up to 10 new Block 50 F-16 fighters (6 C's and 4 D's) in a deal worth $500 million. The LoA was signed on February 2nd, 2002.
Production of the first fighter of this order was started in the course of 2004 with it being completed mid 2005. The first flight should occur in June of 2005 with flight trials starting as of August from Edwards AB.
First Chilean F-16 during the roll-out ceremony at Lockheed-Martin on April 14th, 2005. [LMTAS
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In November of 2004 it became clear that the Chilean government was also seeking urgent replacement for its aging Mirage 50/5M aircraft. Operating costs are soaring and spare parts are getting hard to obtain. It is believed that negiotiations are underway with the Dutch government to aqcuire a batch of 20 second-hand RNlAF F-16s with the MLU update. This deal is supposed to be worth $150 million.
Finally, in October of 2005 the Chilean government decided to purchase a total of 18 Dutch F-16s (11 A's & 7 B's). The aircraft are already upgraded with the MLU conversion package and will be delivered between August of 2006 and September of 2007. This purchase will enable the FACh to create another F-16 squadron.
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In 2008 the first rumour went that another batch of former Dutch F-16s would be sold to Chile. On May 25th, 2009 the order was confirmed by the Dutch ministry of defense. This lot would compromise only A-models. It would be used to create another squadron. Deliveries are expected to start in 2010 and be finished by mid 2011.
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Modifications & Armament
Up to now, no details have been provided on any related weapons deals. The aircraft will be built to standard block 50 configuration, which makes them capable of performing al kinds of missions. This of course depends on the software installments on the aircraft. No details have been provided on which mission software the US is willing to release to Chile. We can only guess that the US will not release all the software, due to security reasons.
It recently became clear that the Chilean vipers would be equipped with Israeli Python 4 and Derby missiles as well as JDAM. Furthermore the Chilean F-16s will lack the standard TACAN system because there is no use to it in South America. The airframes also lack the possibility to fire AMRAAM or HARM missiles. This is prohibited by the US. The MLU birds are adapted in the same way. Link 16 terminals are also absent on the new birds and are removed in the MLU airframes upon delivery. In later years the usage of both the AMRAAM and HARM missiles was approved by US Congress and introduced into the inventory of the FACh.
For low-level navigation the FACh bought 25 GEC-Marconi Atlantic pods from the Netherlands. They bought 60 of them in the nineties but never put them in operational use since low-level flying within NATO is replaced by medium and high level flying due to changed operational circumstances.
Please refer to the F-16 Units
section for an overview of units.