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– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Chile Commits to Purchase F-16 Fighters

Chile signed a $500 million deal February 1 to receive 10 F-16C/D fighter aircraft from the United States. The deal marks the first sale of advanced U.S. weaponry to a Latin American country since President Bill Clinton’s August 1997 decision to rescind a 20-year-old policy effectively barring such transfers.

Engine and weapons contracts for the F-16 fighters are being concluded separately from the February 1 deal. Chilean Defense Minister Michelle Bachelet said January 30 that the total package would cost Chile approximately $660 million over the next nine years.

Deliveries of the combat jets to Chile will take place in 2005-2006. Lockheed Martin, which is the U.S. builder of the F-16, noted in a February 2 press release that Chile would become the 22nd country, including the United States, to fly the fighter.

Chile held a competition to select a new combat aircraft in 1997, and although some of its neighbors expressed concern at the time that the fighter buy could upset regional stability, little protest greeted Chile’s February 1 deal. Sources from the Washington embassies of Argentina and Peru said there were no fears that the purchase would ignite an arms race.

The F-16 fighters will not be armed with lethal AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Missiles (AMRAAMs), a possibility that had been discussed. U.S. policy is to prohibit delivery of AMRAAMs to regions where comparable missiles do not already exist.

In early 2001, U.S. government officials cited the delivery prohibition policy when explaining that AMRAAMs had been authorized for sale to Chile but would not be delivered. Subsequently, Peru publicly confirmed it owns a Russian equivalent of the AMRAAM, the AA-12 Adder missile.

U.S. and Chilean government officials now claim that Chile never asked for the AMRAAMs and that they are not part of the F-16 package. For its part, Peru, whose president proposed in July 2001 at his inauguration that all countries in the region cease arms buys, has volunteered to get rid of its Adders if Chile forgoes buying AMRAAMs.