Logistics: The Jet Engine Thieves Strike Again

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June 17, 2011: The Israeli Air Force has reported that eight jet engines (for F-16 and F-15) were stolen from their Tel Nof airbase, near Tel Aviv. Fortunately, the engines were worn out, and only good for scrap and spare parts. Even so, the stolen engines, weighing several tons altogether, are still worth several hundred thousand dollars. Normally, there's no point in stealing usable F-16 and F-15 engines, because the engines, and many of their parts, have serial numbers that are regularly tracked. But as scrap, and untraceable spares, the engines can be sold into the black market.

There are, however, some jet engines that do have value on the black market. Take, for example, the 2009 case in Malaysia, where it was discovered that two of their General Electric J85-21A jet engines were stolen in 2007 and 2008. Each of the six F-5 fighters used by the Malaysian air force uses a pair of these engines. Packed for shipping, the engine would be a box about 2.6 meters (eight feet) long and weighing half a ton. At first, the 37 year old engines were believed shipped out of the country, from a Malaysian air base, and sold into the black market. It was thought that the most likely customer would be Iran, which would probably pay a million dollars, or more, for each engine. Iran has been under arms embargos for decades, and is desperate to obtain spare parts. Iran has about sixty F-5 fighters, purchased in the 1970s. Iran has used the F-5 as the model for domestically designed and built aircraft. So they are definitely in the market for J85-21A engines.

For a while, it was believed that the engines never left the country, but were instead taken apart, and the components sold to a South American broker, or back to the Malaysian Air Force. But eventually, the theft was traced to an air force sergeant and a businessman, who had shipped the engines to Argentina, and then to Uruguay. This, oddly enough, puts the engines in danger of getting smuggled to Iran.

That's because Iran has had agents operating in this part of South America. Pro-Iranian terror group Hezbollah has long been involved in the drug business in this neighborhood. That gives these Iran backed Islamic terrorists access to the narcotics smuggling routes that can move anything, or anyone, just about anywhere. The Iran-sponsored Lebanese group has long been involved in narcotics and people smuggling in South America's tri-border (Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil) region. This area has long been a hotbed of illicit activity, and too many politicians and police commanders are on the take from gangsters to change this. The tri-border region is just north of Uruguay. Uruguay cooperated with Malaysian police to track down the missing jet engines, which were eventually found. Legal proceedings are still delaying the return of the engines to Malaysia.

Israel believes their theft was an inside job, and is seeking to track down those responsible, before something else disappears.

 


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