Procurement: September 27, 2004

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Reports from Colombian and American sources indicate that Venezuela has closed a deal for 50 Russian MiG-29 fighters (40 single-seat, 10 two-seat trainers). This is a huge purchase for Venezuela, which currently operates 18 American F-5a, 15 French Mirage 5s, and 18 American F-16A combat planes, with a mixture of trainers (2 F-5B, 2 Mirage 5, 6 F-16B the F-16Bs are fully combat-capable).

The Venezuelan MiG-29s will outclass anything in current South American air forces. Colombia operates second-hand Kfirs (an Israeli derivative of the French Mirage powered by an American J79 turbojet), and Peru operates an older version of the MiG-29 (anywhere from 16 to 28, the latter figure is often claimed by the Ecuadorians who operate Kfirs). The MiG-29SMTs Venezuela has purchased are capable of carrying the extended-range Russian AA-10 air-to-air missile, with a 20 percent greater range than American AMRAAM. The AA-10, though, uses the older, and less effective, semi-active radar guidance. The MiG-29's other major air-to-air weapons are the Russian R-73E heat seeker (AA-11 Archer), the best dogfight missile in the world, and the R-77/RVV-AE (AA-12 Adder) a fire-and-forget air-to-air missile comparable to the AMRAAM (90% of the range and 1,000 kilometers per hour slower). Other weapons the MiG-29SMT carries include the Kh-29 TV-guided missile (AS-14 Kedge) and Kh-31 anti-ship/anti-radar missile (two versions of the AS-17 Krypton). The Krypton is fast with a speed of Mach 4.5 due to a rocket/ramjet propulsion, and has a range of 110 kilometers. It is best described as an equivalent to the American HARM, albeit it is much more versatile (it also has an anti-AWACS version with a 200-kiometer range).

Venezuela's air force could use the upgrades the MiGs represent. The F-5 and Mirage 5 are very old planes (first deployed in the 1960s), and the Venezuelan F-16 force is suffering from a lack of spare parts since relations with the United States cooled down during Hugo Chavez's emerging dictatorship. Venezuelan officials have said the planes are intended to protect the Panama Canal but they won't say who they intend to protect it from. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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