Caracas buys Su-30MKI fighters to circumvent Washington's F-16 spares embargo

Venezuela last week signed a $1.3 billion arms deal with Russia, under which it will acquire 24 Sukhoi Su-30MKI multirole fighters and 30 Mil helicopters. Moscow approved the sale despite last-minute pressure from the USA to reconsider.

The Su-30MKI purchase represents the largest part of the 27 July contract. The aircraft will be delivered in a configuration similar to those already in service with the Indian air force. The deal also covers the provision of an extensive armaments package including beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles and precision-guided air-to-surface weapons, plus spare parts and crew training.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has signalled that the first batch of six fighters will arrive in the country by December. The Su-30MKI fleet is intended to replace the air force's Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs, since Washington has refused to provide spare parts to support those aircraft following a spat with the Chavez administration. Sources suggest the new deal with Moscow also includes an option to acquire another 30 Su-30MKIs to replace Venezuela's Dassault Mirage 50 fighters.

The rotary-wing package expands on earlier orders signed in 2004 and 2005, and is believed to comprise 14 Mi-17V5 transports and two Mi-35M2 assault helicopters for the Venezuelan army and 14 aircraft for the Venezuelan air force.

■ Caracas is also discussing the potential purchase of 14 Su-39 strike aircraft from Russia to equip the Venezuelan navy's first maritime interdiction squadron.

Source: Flight International