Colombia Table of Contents
ARC Arauca-class river patrol craft, Leticia
Courtesy Lloyd W. Mansfield
In 1988 the National Navy had about 10,600 personnel, including approximately 5,000 marines, 1,500 coast guard personnel, and 500 conscripts. Personnel under the command of the National Navy represented 12 percent of the country's total military forces. Naval reserve personnel were estimated at 15,000. The commanding officer of the National Navy in 1988 was Rear Admiral Manuel Fernando Avendano Galvis. Naval headquarters were in Bogotá. The naval commander was assisted by a chief of naval operations, a superior naval council, and a naval chief of staff. The navy was organized into four commands: the Caribbean Command, with its headquarters at Cartagena; the Pacific Command, with headquarters at Buenaventura; the Western River Forces Command, with headquarters at Puerto Leguízamo on the Río Putumayo; and the Eastern River Forces Command, with headquarters at Orocué on the Río Meta. The country's principal naval base was at Cartagena. In addition, the navy maintained a minor base at Barranquilla, the site of one of Colombia's shipworks. In 1988 a new naval base was reported to have been completed at Bahía de Málaga.
From 1978 to 1988, the navy's Corps of Marine Infantry (Cuerpo de Infantería de Marina) benefited from a gradual buildup. The marine corps was organized into five battalions. Two battalions each reported to the Atlantic Marine Brigade and the Pacific Marine Brigade, which corresponded to the navy's Caribbean Command and the Pacific Command, respectively. A jungle battalion, first organized in 1978, was also part of the Western River Forces Command. Several independent rifle companies were reportedly subordinate to the Eastern River Forces Command. Coordinated marine-army operations frequently were carried out during the late 1980s under the operational control of the army. In 1988 analysts anticipated that the EE-9 Cascavel armored cars and EE-11 Urutu armored personnel carriers would be used to form a mechanized element in each marine brigade.
In 1979 the navy organized the small Coast Guard Corps (Cuerpo de Guardacosta) to carry out coastal patrol duties and operate some aircraft. In 1988 a naval air arm was being established to reduce the service's dependence on air force support. Two BO-105 helicopters as well as two Aero Commanders and one Piper Cherokee airplane made up the air arm's equipment inventory in 1988.
Observers regarded the navy as capable of patrolling and defending Colombia's offshore waters in the Pacific and the Caribbean but unable to project its seapower on a subregional basis. During the 1980s, the incorporation into the fleet of a number of ships purchased from West Germany--a decision spurred by renewed concern over conflicting maritime territorial claims with Venezuela and Nicaragua--appeared to have somewhat strengthened this capability (see Geopolitical Interests , this ch.).
The major vessels of the Colombian fleet in 1988 included four submarines, four frigates, four large patrol ships, two fast attack craft, three river gunboats, two coastal patrol vessels, and eight river patrol craft. The navy also had four survey/research vessels (one a former Honduran ship that was confiscated for smuggling), five transports, one floating dock, a sail training ship, and ten tugs. Two destroyers that had long been part of the fleet were decommissioned in 1986.
The submarines included two West German-built Type 1200 diesel-electric patrol submarines equipped with torpedo tubes and two Italian-built Type SX-506 midget submarines, each capable of carrying up to eight attack swimmers and two tons of explosives. The navy commissioned all four submarines during the early to mid-1970s. In 1988 the four Type FS 1500 frigates were among the newest vessels of the Colombian fleet. Each frigate was believed to be armed with eight MM-40 Exocet surface-to-surface missiles, an undetermined number of Seasparrow (Albatross) missiles, six Mk 32 A/S torpedo tubes, one 76mm gun, two 40mm Breda guns, and four 30mm Oerlikon guns. The vessels also were equipped with radar, sonar, and electronic countermeasures. The navy's BO-105 helicopters were used on the frigates.
The four large patrol ships were former United States Cherokeeclass vessels, commissioned in 1943 and sold to Colombia in 1979. During the mid-1980s, the navy reportedly planned to replace these vessels with four Exocet-armed corvettes. The two fast attack craft were former United States Asheville-class craft, commissioned in 1969 and transferred by lease to Colombia in 1983. The fleet's three Arauca-class river gunboats were Colombian built, as were the coastal and river patrol craft. Most of these vessels, however, were commissioned in the 1950s. By contrast, two of the survey/research ships were new vessels acquired in the early 1980s. One vessel was employed in fishery research and the other in geophysical research. The survey/research ships were under the authority of the navy's Maritime Division (División Maritima--Dimar). The Dimar was the principal naval authority in charge of hydrography, pilotage, navigational aids, and port authorities.
Data as of December 1988
Colombia Table of Contents