Chair Force Engineer

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hurricane Hugo's "Hot Air" Force

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has major plans for his nation's air force. Those plans appear to be motivated more by his overall goal of irritating the United States instead of sound military planning. Venezuela is already ordering MiG-29's from Russia. It is currently investigating the purchase of Russian Su-35's and the sale of its current F-16's to Iran or Cuba.

The Su-35 is an excellent fighter, perhaps the most maneuverable production fighter in the world. Still, Venezuela can't back up its claim that the Su-35 is the best fighter in the world. That honor belongs to the F-22 Raptor. Because of the F-22's stealth, it can fire off a salvo of radar-guided missiles long before it can be spotted on an enemy fighter's radar. In mock combat between the F-22 and F-15, the results haven't been pretty for the Eagle drivers (even in times when they have enjoyed overwhelming numerical superiority.) For an Su-35 pilot facing an F-22, all of the "Cobra maneuvers" and "J-Turns" in the world won't be protection against a missile fired from a fighter that can't be seen until it's too late.

MiG-29's from Russia don't offer significant advantages over the F-16, but Venezuela sees two benefits here. First, the Russians will be happy to sell "Hurricane Hugo" the parts he needs to keep the MiGs flying, while the US will no longer give Venezuela the F-16 parts needed to sustain a reasonable mission-capable rate. Second, replacing American planes with Russian ones is an expensive way of hammering home Chavez's anti-American agenda.

The prospect of Iranian F-16's is somewhat frightening, but not for the reasons that immediately come to mind. The Venezuelan F-16's that may be sold are the older "A" models with virtually no ability to fire radar-guided missiles. While the planes weren't originally built to drop precision weapons, these capabilities have allegedly been added to the Venezuelan planes by our perfidous Israeli "allies." Still, the planes are day fighters that could be shot down easily by modern F-16's like the Block 50 F-16C. Rather, the danger is that Iran could reverse-engineer technologies from the F-16 and develop Iran's domestic manufacturing capabilities.

Over the years, Iran has strengthened its domestic aviation industry. Some sources will contend that Iran has no means of maintaining the Venezuelan F-16's and will resort to cannibalism. While many authoritative sources claim that Iran's Tomcat fleet is essentially grounded and most of its Phantoms were cannibalized, a new view is emerging that Iran has a domestic capability to maintain these planes with spare parts and home-built munitions. Additionally, Iran is working on new fighters that resemble an unholy hybrid of the F-4 Phantom II and F-5E Tiger II (here, here, and here.) It would be a major boon to Iran's aviation industry if they got their hands on the F-16's fly-by-wire control system or F100 turbofan engine.