This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.
The Defense and Security sectors in Colombia offer opportunities for U.S. companies in both public and private procurement. Colombia’s persistent security problems continue to shape the administration’s agenda, namely: high coca production and public safety issues attributed to the guerrilla National Liberation Army (Spanish: Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN), criminal organizations (BACRIM), the socio-economic problems from Venezuela, and most recently COVID-19 pandemic related issues.
All security and defense purchases for the Colombian Armed Forces are made through tenders publicized in Colombia Compra Eficiente (CCE), private invitations and the Colombian Agency of Purchases for the Air Force, ACOFA. All governmental purchases for this sector are tied to the budget assigned by the Ministry of Defense. As for Colombian manufactures, only the state entity Industria Militar (INDUMIL) is able to manufacture and commercialize weapons, ammunition, explosives and blasting accessories by constitutional mandate. In addition, Corporación de Ciencia y Tecnología para el Desarrollo de la Industria Naval Marítima y Fluvial (COTECMAR), develops the Maritime and Naval Industry, Corporación de la Industria Aeronáutica Colombiana (CIAC) manufactures and develops the aeronautical industry and La Corporación de Alta Tecnología para la Defensa (CODALTEC) improves technology in the defense sector.
The Colombian Defense Ministry has a budget of approximately USD 10.4 billion, which is equivalent to roughly 12 percent of the total Colombian budget for 2021.While most of the defense budget will be designated for operational activities, such as payroll, procurement of basic goods and services, and pensions. About four percent of the total budget (USD 507 million) will be invested in strengthening the security and strategic capacity of the Armed Forces, through the purchase of equipment, hardware, weapons, ammunition, communication upgrades and to carry out major scheduled maintenance for aging equipment and infrastructure such as accommodation, dining rooms, tracks, hangars, docks, and provision of a new headquarters for operations of the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces.
Guerrilla and Criminal Activity
Violent protests in April and May of 2021 resulted in deadly attacks on police stations and wide-spread lotting. Colombia’s Defense Minister has claimed that ELN and FARC dissidents were instigating violence in the protests and pointed to the arrest of eleven members of these groups during the first month’s of the national strikes. The exploitation of vulnerabilities at police stations and criminal organizations’ burglaries of shopping centers has urged the Government to consider procuring advanced security equipment such as cameras and radios to better respond to future threats.
On June 16, 2021, a car bomb exploded inside a military base in Cúcuta, leaving 36 people injured. The Government of Colombia (GoC) blamed ELN for this attack. Internal security measures that failed to prevent the attack have spurred the Government of Colombia to consider additional screening equipment and bomb sniffing dogs at military and police points of entry. On June 25, 2021, President Duque’s helicopter was attacked by small arms fire as it landed in the border city of Cúcuta, near the border with Venezuela. These recent attacks continue to encourage the GoC to spend on military training and the fight against narco-terrorism, trade-in contraband, and securing at-risk areas using the National Police. Colombia is especially committed to developing security surveillance and enforcement in remote regions of the country such as La Guajira, Arauca, Choco, Putumayo, Nariño, Cauca, and Meta, areas where the government has exercised little to no presence, giving leeway for criminal activity to flourish.
In 2017 Coca cultivation in Colombia reached record high levels (since 2001) of approximately 218,000 hectares. By 2020, this area decreased to 143,000 hectares. 48 percent of these cultivations are located in areas of interest for conservation, to include National Parks or indigenous reserves. The GoC banned aerial spraying in 2015 over concerns that the chemical agent used in spraying was carcinogenic, but is currently weighing a decision to re-start aerial spraying with this chemical. The use of commercial drones for aerial spraying is now being discussed and procured for small, pilot projects, but has had limited success due to logistical complexities and security challenges
U.S. Defense Assistance to Colombia
Under Plan Colombia, significant U.S. funding, technical assistance, and equipment support was provided to Colombian-led counter-narcotics programs for drug eradication and interdiction. Plan Colombia expired in 2012, but American support remains critical to Colombia’s Armed Forces, which today mostly comes from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL).
Through the Foreign Military Sales Trust Fund, the U.S. Department of Defense provides equipment and training to the Colombian military and police through military assistance programs. Other sources of funding include the U.S. State Department and programs that it administers, such as the INL program. INL has been the main source of funding for equipment acquisition in Colombia since 1990 through private military consulting firms. These firms operate through an open market competitive bidding system, mainly focused on supporting the National Police for drug eradication/interdiction operations.
The Colombian Congress approved Law 80 in 1993, under which preferential treatment is given to goods and services for security and national defense made in Colombia by local manufacturers over goods made by foreign manufacturers. However, under Chapter Nine of the National Treatment Caveat of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA), U.S. companies must be treated as locals when they participate in public bids, eliminating the disadvantage they used to face prior to implementation of the TPA. Typically, some non-sensitive equipment may be procured through Colombia Compra Eficiente, but most sensitive hardware, which is the majority of purchases, is acquired through private invitations, a process that is not always transparent or easily understood by many foreign companies. American companies should inform the U.S. Commercial Service of Embassy Bogota of their intentions to bid on an RFP and, if appropriate, apply for formal Advocacy through the U.S. Department of Commerce to advocate to the host government on the behalf of U.S. solutions
The United States continues to enjoy a privileged relationship with Colombia with regard to military equipment acquisitions. However, competitors from France, Korea, Canada, Switzerland, Russia, Israel, and the United Kingdom, are also important players and are increasingly gaining market share. The Colombian military tends to use standardized equipment and values relationships, quality, warranties, interoperability, and familiarity with the equipment. According to official estimates, the U.S. import market share in 2020 represented 37 percent of Colombia’s total imports of military equipment (France has 47 percent and Korea has five percent)
The Colombian military maintains high standards for its equipment, which has historically been a great opportunity for U.S. exporters. However, the United States could lose market share in the future due to more competitive bidding from foreign manufacturers and corruption in the procurement process. U.S. manufactured fabrics are already losing market share in certain sectors such as specialized fabrics for uniforms, which are increasingly being sourced from China.
Colombia continues to be a defense equipment importer via state-owned entities; INDUMIL (arms and ammo), CIAC (aviation), CODALTEC (digital), and COTECMAR (naval). These entities can be key partners for U.S. companies that are willing to do technology transfers.
Like other armed forces, Colombia continues to upgrade equipment in all branches of the military, making it an attractive market for a variety of products and services:
- Upgrades, parts and support for the Blackhawk, Huey, Airbus helicopter fleets
- Acquisition of spare parts and technical publications for the fleet’s aircraft Bell, Cessna, ATR, CN 235 and ATR-42.
- Construction of Command-and-Control Centers in Bogota and other cities
- All types of equipment used for demining, especially light hand-held devices to be used in rugged terrains
- Transport trucks, including regular (troop and cargo carrier), armored and tactical
- Upgrades to fixed-wing aircrafts
- Artillery: modernization of existing equipment and possible purchase of additional systems
- Riverine and maritime watercrafts
- Tactical and survival equipment
- Radio communication systems
- All types of tactical equipment as well as bomb disarming devices
- Equipment for manual eradication of illicit crops
American companies can also consider providing materials, equipment, and machinery to local manufacturing facilities:
- INDUMIL (manufacturer of Galil rifles, Cordoba pistol, ammunition and explosives)
- COTECMAR (currently manufacturing patrol vessels under Fassmer’s license and LPR 40s)
- CIAC (Manufacturer of aircraft parts and the T-90 Calima)
- CODALTEC (simulator manufacturer and software developer)
In 1990, the United States’ Government provided Colombia with 18 UH-1N helicopters and Colombia has since purchased an additional 36 systems. In 2010, the Colombian military had 280 helicopters and 200 fixed-wing aircraft with no new major purchases projected through 2024. Due to this aircraft fleet, there are continuous opportunities for training, parts, and maintenance of these aircraft, especially Blackhawk rotor blades, repair services, and erosion-resistant coating systems.
Military equipment trends have remained constant following the 2016 peace deal signed with the FARC. The government continues to fight drug trafficking groups and to conduct drug interdiction and eradication. The military has prioritized strengthening: combat material and equipment for first-class troops, the anti-explosive groups, information and communication technologies to integrate intelligence information systems.
The National Police is expanding its activity in civilian and urban surveillance, adapting its force and upgrading its equipment to this environment. There are opportunities for the improvement of strategic mobility (motorcycles, vans, buses, cars), weapons, security, and protection (armored vests, helmet and riot shields, grenades, among others, and technological developments (ballistic fingerprint information systems, portable radios, predictive crime models, among others).
The Army continues to show considerable interest in upgrading its armored, lightly armored, and tactical vehicles to better control national territory and sensitive border areas. Opportunities can be found in the maintenance of naval assets, ammunition and batteries for torpedoes, navigation systems (surveillance and control of Galeón San José), field equipment, amphibious vehicles, maintenance of docks and facilities.
Other opportunities include construction of the new headquarters for the security, and defense sector (Fortaleza Project), technological services, integrated communications, cyber defense capabilities and cybersecurity material, equipment for first-class troops, campaign equipment and communication, medical equipment and devices of high technology.
Customs, Regulations and Standards
Import Tariff: The majority of defense and military equipment have no tariffs due to the implementation of the U.S.-Colombian TPA in May 2012. Companies are encouraged to check the Harmonized Code (Schedule B) to better understand the tariffs and taxes they would have to pay to export to Colombia. Corruption and lack of transparency in public procurement are the largest non-tariff trade barriers for American companies in Colombia. Please contact the Foreign Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota before submitting paperwork for a procurement process with the Colombian Armed Forces.
- Expodefensa; Bogotá, Colombia
- Virtual Fair
- International Congress of Naval Design and Engineering
- Ministry of Defense
- Ministry of Finance
- Info Defense
For additional information, including market analysis, trade events, and the products and services that the U.S. Commercial Service can provide to help you succeed in the Colombian market, please contact:
U.S. Embassy Bogotá
Defense Commercial Assistant
+57 (313) 636-6772