Chile Proposes Purchase of U.S. F-16 Fighters

Nearly three-and-a-half years after the Clinton administration rescinded what was effectively a ban on advanced weapons exports to Latin America, Chile announced on December 27 that it would buy 10 to 12 F-16C/D fighter jets from the United States. Chile's proposed purchase, estimated to be worth roughly $600 million, would be the first sale of advanced U.S. weapons to a Latin American country since the August 1997 policy change by President Bill Clinton.

President Jimmy Carter instituted a presumption of denial on arms exports in 1977, and as a result, the United States has exported almost no advanced weapons to Latin America in more than 20 years. The one exception was the Reagan administration's 1981 sale of 24 F-16A/B fighters to Venezuela. The Clinton administration replaced the presumption of denial with a process of case-by-case review just in time for U.S. fighter jet manufacturers to compete for a Chilean purchase of some 20 combat aircraft.

Martin's F-16 over the Boeing F/A-18, the French Mirage 2000-5, and the Swedish Gripen. John O'Leary, the U.S. Ambassador to Chile, noted that the F-16 ranked first in the Chilean technical evaluation and hailed the Chilean selection as a "shining example of the strength and breadth of our dynamic bilateral relationship."

Chile's air force will seek to arm the F-16s, if contract negotiations are successful, with the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), but the United States has a policy of not introducing a new weapons capability into a region and no other Latin American country currently possesses a comparable missile. A U.S. government official, however, said the United States has already approved selling the AMRAAM to Chile, but noted it would not be delivered until another country in the region receives a similar capability. Delivery of the fighters could begin in 2004.