Chile seeks F-16 fighter purchase


SANTIAGO, AFP

Chile’s government has given its air force a green light to negotiate the purchase of 10 U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, the Defense Ministry announced Wednesday.

After a three-year review, the decision in favor of the combat aircraft made by Lockheed-Martin — which industry sources say could cost US$620 million — comes as bad news to France’s Dassault, which sought a contract for its Mirage 2000, and the Anglo-Swedish Saab, which had its Jas 39 Gripen in the running for the Chilean deal.

Lockheed-Martin saluted the decision as best for both Chile and the company. “This decision by Chile sends a message that the F-16 is still a very viable fighter, and it is very competitive on the world market,” company spokesman Joseph Stout said.

The Defense Ministry statement said President Ricardo Lagos had received a technical analysis from the air force putting the F-16 — among the world’s best-selling fighter aircraft — on the top of its wish list.

Lagos said negotiations should take about six months.

In Washington, officials welcomed the deal. “This will strengthen the already close bilateral relations and further enhance its cooperative regional defense and strategic relationships,” said a State Department official.

The official, who declined to be named, described the deal as “a symbol of the excellent bilateral relations between the U.S. and Chile,” adding that Washington is “also pleased about the number of jobs that this is going to offer to the American people.”

An F-16 group purchase would allow the Chilean Air Force to replace the U.S.-made Dragonfly A-37 fighters, purchased 40 years ago and retired three years back. Each aircraft costs about US$25 million, but the deal with Chile is likely to include a support package, training, spare parts and weapons, Stout said.