Spanish occupation began in the 17th century and was consolidated during the early 18th in the viceroyalty of New Granada, which covered the northern part of South America. Discontent among various parts of the population led to the 1819 rebellion under Simon Bolivar. New Granada became Gran Colombia, divided into four provinces (roughly equivalent to the four present-day countries of Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela). Colombia separated from the others soon after Bolivar's death in 1830. The Republic of Colombia was established in 1855. For over a century, politics were dominated by the Conservative-Liberal feud, which often broke out into warfare. Periods of democratic government alternated with dictatorships. The 1970 election was a turning point in Colombia's recent history. Disaffected party members formed a guerrilla movement known as Movimiento 19 de Abril (M-19) which initiated a long guerrilla campaign against the government. They were soon joined in insurrection by two other left-wing groups, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC, Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces) and the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN, National Liberation Army). While the three groups waged their campaigns with varying degrees of success, orthodox politics were taken over by the Conservative-Liberal duopoly. Meanwhile a third potent force emerged during the 1980s in the form of organised drug traffickers known as cartels. Their control of large sums of money now began to be turned into political power and leading politicians increasingly became tainted by their connections with drug money. A number of right-wing paramilitary groups emerged to play an increasingly influential and brutal role in the conflict. In 1989, M-19 formally gave up their armed struggle. In 1999, the US administration unveiled Plan Colombia, a massive military and social support programme and put it into operation. Plan Colombia has been continued through the last decade, as did Plan Patriota, the Colombian government's policy in dealing with leftist-guerrillas turned narco-terrorists. Significant gains have been made by governement forces over the past decade in fighting and demobilizing armed groups. In the 2000s, most paramilitary groups gave up their arms under military pressure, as did the FARC in 2016 after some significant military defeats. The ELN however, still wages a war against the central government.
On 31 December 1919 the government of Colombia released funding for the formation of the Escuela Militar de Aviacion (military aviation school), marking the birth of Colombian military aviation. The school initially operated under the control of the Colombian army, and based at Flandes. In 1925 the school made a restart at Madrid, near Bogotà. Full expansion came in 1932 after a Peruvian attempt to capture Colombia's southernmost town of Leticia, and in 1934 the military operated as many as 150 aircraft. The Aviacion Militar received new American equipment when the USA became involved in World War Two in 1941, and the country benefited from various lend-lease deliveries for pilot training. Soon after World War Two, the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana became an independent part of the armed forces.
After a period of relative peace, internal political struggle broke out in 1948 with La Violencia, the most destructive of Colombia's civil wars, which lasted almost ten years. Not surprisingly, the equipment obtained by the military at that time was optimised for counterinsurgency tasks, like B-26C Invaders. Also, the FAC acquired its first jet aircraft in the form of the F-80, T-33 and F-86. Around 1960 the military transport element expanded, with vast numbers of the C-47s delivered, followed by more modern types like the C-130 Hercules, UH-1 Huey, T-37 Tweety Bird and T-41 Mescalero were obtained during the sixties. In 1972, Colombia introduced itself into the supersonic era, with the Mirage 5.
Further expansion took place in the eighties with considerable deliveries of the OA-37B Dragonfly and a batch of Kfir C2 fighters delivered from Israel, and subsequently upgraded to Kfir C7. The Mirages were upgraded to the same standard by CAMAN. Both types were also equipped for air-to-air refuelling. The nineties saw the delivery of COIN-aircraft like the OV-10A Bronco and Tucanos. To deal with continuing guerrilla activity Escuadrones Aerotácticos (tactical squadrons) were formed at the main FAC bases in the late nineties, consisting of several types of helicopters and AC-47 gunships supplied by their respective Grupos. The 1999 Plan Colombia emphasized on technology, rather than on large numbers of new aircraft being procured, although many Black Hawk-helicopters (dubbed Arpía by the FAC) entered service. Other types acquired under Plan Colombia include SA2-37A Condors, and SR-560 Trackers optimized for interception duties. ctivities. Colombia became the first export customer of the Super Tucano in 2006. Additional and upgraded Kfirs arrived from 2009, many other types like the Tucanos and Hueys were upgraded. Colombia has entered the UAV-world as well, with IAI Hermes UAV's greatly enhancing the service ISR-capabilities. The T-37 will be replaced by the T-6C Texan II and Cessna 172SPs will replace the venerable T-41D Mescaleros. Next in line to be replaced will be the Kfir, with one of the latest F-16 versions rumoured to be a favorite.
Until 1997, the Aviación del Ejército, the aerial branch of the Colombian Army, was a very limited force, operating only light aircraft in liaison roles. However, things changed dramatically with the formation of the Brigada XXV de Aviación del Ejército (BRIAV) in August 1997. Unlike the FAC, which heavily relies on American equipment, the BRIAV took delivery of ten Kazan-built Mil Mi-17V-1Hip helicopters in the same year, marking the beginning of a huge expansion. The largest Colombian airbase, Tolemaida, was prepared to host the Batallón de Helicópteros of the BRIAV and more helicopters were about to follow. Plan Colombia included the delivery of many UH-1Ns, UH-1H Huey IIs and dozens of UH-60L Black Hawks. Additional Mi-17s and Black Hawks were delivered in the 2000s to the fast growing force. Continuing deliveries of Black Hawk helicopters and the nationalization of US provided helicopters have made the Colombian army aviation brigade the largest and best equipped independent army aviation branch in Latin America.
Unlike the Colombian Army, the history of the Aviacion Naval (Naval Aviation) can be traced back to 14 August 1935, when its foundation was ordered by decree. The navy operated limited numbers of light aircraft and amphibians over the years. Shipborne helicopters entered the fleet in the early eighties, with the delivery of two Bo105 helicopters. All aircraft were concentrated on the Atlantic coast. More light aircraft, of which some impouned on narcotics flights, entered service throughout the years. To support the Colombian marine corps in riverine operations, several Bell 412s added useful capabilities to the fleet in 1998. From 2000, two more grupos were formed on the Pacific coast and in the central area. The CN235 meant a significant boost in capabilities. Additional support aircraft, like the Cessna 208, and relatively large numbers of helicopters have significantly enhanced the navy's capabilities.
With the regular army dealing with the guerrillas the Policia Nacional de Colombia (PNC) is heavily involved in counternarcotics, two tasks that oftern interfere. The police's aviation force, Area de Aviacion (ARAVI) is headquartered at Bogotà. As the largest police aviation force in South America, beefed up by Plan Colombia, the fleet is scattered over the whole country. El Dorado, Guaymaral, Larandia, Tulua, Mariquita, Tumaco and Santa Marta are the main police aviation bases. Apart from the Colombian owned aircraft the US Department of State supported the Aerial Eradication Program (EAP) under the Plan Colombia until it was taken over by the PNC. Colombian operated helicopters provide necessary SAR and gunship support during eradication missions. Deliveries of new helicopters continue apace, with Bell 427s and ex US Army Black Hawks helicopters being the most recent assets joining the varied fleet.