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The Hemisphere: High Cost of Jets

3 minute read

One reason why neighbors Peru and Ecuador are more than ordinarily touchy about their long-standing border dispute (see above) is that they are currently competing with each other in an expensive jet air-power race. Last year the Peruvians asked the U.S. to sell them twelve F-86 Sabre-jet fighters. During the past ten months, Ecuador got twelve Meteor fighters and six Canberra twin-jet medium bombers from Britain. Last week came the Peruvian retort: the government announced that it had signed up for 20 of Britain’s late-model Hawker Hunters.

Neither Peru (pop. 9,300,000) nor Ecuador (pop. 3,400,000) can really afford to spend millions of dollars for warplanes, but a combination of alarm and national pride holds down public complaints in the two countries.

The Peruvian and Ecuadorian purchases of Hunters, Meteors and Canberras are also signs of another trend: Britain is pulling ahead of the U.S. in the Latin American jet air-power market. One reason is that the U.S. government is slow to part with up-to-date jets. Another is that the British sell their jets cheaper and on longer credit.

When Lima announced purchase of the 20 Hunters, a Peruvian Senator crowed: “This will place Peru at the head of all South American countries in jet fighters.” Presumably he was talking about quality, not quantity: both Argentina and Brazil are far ahead of Peru in numbers of jet warplanes. The Latin American jet air-power picture as of last week:

Peru has received six of the twelve Sabres ordered from the U.S. These are at present the hottest jet fighters in any Latin American air force. In addition, Peru has six U.S. T-33 trainers.

Ecuador owns two British jet trainers in addition to its twelve Meteors and six Canberras.

Argentina has the biggest jet force in Latin America: 120 obsolescent Meteors, plus half a dozen Argentine-built Pulqui II fighters (virtually handmade jobs, produced by German experts hired in 1948 by Juan Perón).

Brazil has about 50 Meteors, obtained in 1952 by barter for 297,000 tons of cotton.

Venezuela, oil-rich and free spending, owns 24 British Vampire fighters and twelve Canberra medium bombers, has ordered 22 Sabres from the U.S. The first half dozen Sabres are scheduled for delivery in October.

Colombia and Cuba have six T-33s apiece. The Dominican Republic requested 25 Sabres last year, but has not yet put up the money to take delivery.

The air forces of the other twelve Latin American republics are all equipped with propeller-driven planes of World War II vintage.

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