Colombian military industry markets weapons and technology on international stage

The military industry in recent years has worked hard to develop new products and technology to fight not just the guerrilla group, but other transnational criminal organizations.
Julieta Pelcastre | 25 January 2014

Military weapon: The MGL MK-1 grenade launcher uses 40 mm ammunition and can fire 18 rounds per minute. It is manufactured by Military Industry of Colombia (INDUMIL). [Photo: INDUMIL]

Colombia’s military equipment industry, which generated sales of $450 million (USD) in 2013, is seeking to increase international sales by aggressively marketing products and services which can help governments and private business battle organized crime groups.

Colombian military products and services are of high quality and are in demand throughout the world, said Gen. José Javier Pérez Mejía, vice minister of the Social and Business Defense Group (GSED), told the Colombian news agency Innova in an article published on Dec. 30, 2013. The GSED is part of the Defense Ministry. The Colombian firm is responsible for directing and guiding the corporate policy of 19 companies serving the defense industry.

“The future of the Colombian military industry is promising. We believe that in the coming years we could be in the big leagues during times of peace, not war,” General José Javier Pérez Mejía, Vice Minister of the Social and Business Defense Group (GSED), on December 30 to the news agency, Colombia Innova.

The government is engaged in peace talks in Havana with representatives from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The FARC has fought the government for 50 years. A peace agreement would create more opportunities for the defense industry to focus on research and innovation, rather than producing weapons and ammunition needed by the Armed Forces to fight the FARC, Pérez Mejía said.

In addition to providing equipment needed to battle the FARC, the military industry in recent years has worked hard to develop new products and technology to fight not just the guerrilla group, but other transnational criminal organizations, according to Germán Sahid Garnica, a security analyst at El Rosario University in Bogota.

“The military industry is diversifying its portfolio of services and equipment that generate a strategic advantage against various criminal threats,” Sahid Garnica said.

International market

As its military industry sells more goods and services on the international market, Colombia should forge “broad alliances” when it comes to marketing products overseas, Pérez Mejía said.

Conducting research to develop new technology and other products is very expensive for military industry companies, Sahid Garnica said.

Nonetheless, Colombia has the ability to export quality military technology at affordable prices, and can also provide insight and training from troops who have experience in “asymmetrical fighting” against a guerrilla organization, Sahid Garnica said.

“Colombia has managed to mix doctrine and practice,” the security analyst said.

Exponential growth Colombia’s security forces have grown dramatically during the last decade. In 2001, the country had 300,000 National Police agents and military troops. By 2012, the number of National Police agents and military troops had grown to 450,000, according to published reports.

So too as the country’s military industry, which has developed and produced tactical and strategic weapons for the military’s use against the FARC and transnational criminal organizations, such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Urabenos, and the Rastrojos. These groups engage in drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, and other criminal enterprises.

Colombian companies drive innovation

Among the Colombian countries which are developing innovations in technology related to security are INDUMIL (Military Industry of Colombia), COTECMAR (Science and Technology Corporation for the Development of the Naval, Maritime, and Fluvial Industry), CODALTEC (High Technology Corporation), and CIAC (Colombian Aerospace Industry Corporation).

Some of the companies are well-known worldwide. For example, military industry analysts consider INDUMIL to be a cutting edge technology company, with more than 57 years of experience in the production and sale of ammunition, explosives, and other weapons.

The company is known for developing the assault rifles Galil SAR and Galil AR, the production of smart bombs for the Colombian Air Force, and the maintenance of the Army’s infantry vehicles. It also developed the Colombian Cordova handgun. Paraguay, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador are among the first countries to purchase the semi-automatic handgun.

Naval cooperation

In addition to producing weapons and technology to improve security, some military industry companies also help countries cooperate in the battle against organized crime. For instance, COTECMAR in recent years developed, built and exported four LPR-40 MKII river patrol boats to Brazil.

Brazil and Colombia worked together to develop and design the patrol boat for use in the Amazon River. Naval officials from both countries have been working on the initiative since 2011.

The ‘7 de Agosto’

In December 2013, COTECMAR delivered an Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) to the Armed Forces of Colombia. The company has a contract to eventually deliver six OPVs to the Armed Forces.

The OPV is also known as “7 de Agosto.” Is designed to operate in collaboration with helicopters and high-speed interceptor boats.

In addition to security tasks, the OPV can also help officials provide humanitarian assistance during natural disasters, and can be used in search and rescue operations.

Colombia’s military industry is steadily building its capacity to develop and produce vessels, Sahid Garnica said.

“In ten years, Colombia will be able to build a strategic fleet, frigates,” said Sahid Garnica.

Maintenance of Air Force aircraft

The CIAC performs the maintenance and repair of highly complex aircraft. The company is also modernizing the EMB 312 T27 Tucano aircraft used by the Colombian Air Force (FAC).

As part of the modernization program, the Tucano aircraft will be fitted with new wings and landing gear, as well as a new Rockwell Collins navigation and communications system.

In late 2013, Embraer Defense & Security, a Brazilian company, agreed to certify CIAC to become the only company able to modernize Tucano aircraft, except those belonging to the Brazilian Air Force.

Production and modernization

The CIAC is also producing the T-90 Calima aircraft, which officials will use to strengthen the capabilities of the Flight Training Group (GRUEV) of the Colombian Air Force.

The Colombian government is studying the possibility of building a plant to produce ammonium nitrate explosives because the infrastructure development programs in Colombia in the next few years will focus on the construction of roads, railways, and tunnels,” Gen. Pérez Mejía said.

The Colombian defense industry collaborates with South Korea in the construction of oceanic patrol vessels and with Israel in the manufacture of parts for the Galil rifle.

Defense industry helps provide security

The weapons and technological innovations developed by the military industry are important to Colombia’s national defense, Sahid Garnica explained.

“Colombia realized that to develop the power of the state in traditional terms, a sustained military industry is required,” Sahid Garnica said. “Defense industry technology is important in the fight against crime. Intelligence work is the most powerful weapon that the Armed Forces has to dismantle the structures of transnational organized crime.”

The defense industry can make a difference in the field of operations by producing weapons and technology which provide security forces with a strategic advantage, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said in November 2013, at the inauguration of the First Meeting of the Defense Industry.

In 2013, the Colombian military industry contributed to the success of part of the security initiative knowna as “Sword of Honor,” which involved Colombia’s four naval forces and the Joint Task Force against Drug Trafficking, ‘Poseidón’, according to El Tiempo.

The Colombian Navy captured 417 alleged drug traffickers, including 154 suspected gang members, authorities said. Naval forces also seized 64 tons of cocaine, which were worth an estimated $16 billion (USD).

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