Venezuela opts for Antonovs

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During a ceremony held at the Venezuelan air force’s flight school, President Hugo Chavez last week announced his decision to acquire Antonov tactical transport aircraft.

The move comes in the wake of the country’s abortive attempt to purchase eight EADS Casa C-295 transports and two CN-235MPA maritime patrol aircraft earlier this year, which generated objections from Washington over their US content.

Although Chavez refrained from specifying the precise type and quantity, it is believed that the Venezuelan government intends to procure 10 or 12 Antonov An-70s.

During the event, Chavez indicated that the Sukhoi Su-25TM – or a version of that aircraft – will probably be selected as the Venezuelan air force’s future light strike aircraft. Should the deal go ahead, local sources suggest that a package deal might be hammered out this year to include 14 Su-39 maritime interdiction aircraft currently being negotiated for the Venezuelan navy.

Last year, the air force selected the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano to meet its light strike and lead-in fighter/trainer requirements. Yet, as with the C-295/CN-235MPA deal, the US government barred the sale of these trainers to Venezuela, forcing the country to seek alternatives.

Delivery of the first four of Venezuela’s Sukhoi Su-30MKV multirole fighters is expected by 10 December. Contrary to previous indications, Chavez says Venezuela’s Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs will not be sold or donated to Cuba or China, but will be kept operational.

Likewise, the service’s current Lockheed C-130 fleet will not be withdrawn from service, says Chavez, with the Venezuelan defence ministry allocating $7 million to boost the availability of the transport fleet.