Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk

in Royal Bahraini Air Force Service


Nine UH-60M ordered in April 2008.

Individual Details

Serial c/no. Prev. Identity Delivered Fate/Notes

More Information


  • World Air Forces Directory 2009/10 (Mach III)

Other Sources

To be added.

CAF Carrier

Here’s something interesting from the ‘Norfolk Virginian-Pilot’:

Confederates in Bid for Aircraft Carrier

In a surprise move, a group of aviation enthusiasts calling themselves the Confederate Air Force (CAF) has announced that they are submitting a bid to buy the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal when it is officially retired from Navy service at the end of this year.

The Midland, Texas, based organization operates a large fleet of restored World War Two vintage fighter and bomber aircraft for display at airshows around the country. The organization takes it’s role of educating people about the war years very seriously, but the move towards jet-era aviation is thought to be a new departure.

The 54 years old USS Forrestal (CV-59) is currently used to train young naval aviators for carrier deck landings at sea, and will soon be surplus to requirements as the Navy continues to down-size. It had been expected that the ship would be offered to one of the South American navies. Both Argentina and Brazil operate ageing aircraft carriers that need replacing. The Department of Defense has confirmed that a serious CAF bid for the carrier has been submitted.

The group has initial funding thanks to a substantial endowment from a former naval aviator, and is currently negotiating sponsorship deals with a number of large corporations. The Tailhook Association and the Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola have also been invited to participate in the project.

The Confederates intend to maintain the carrier in fully working condition, as a living museum and a tribute to the Navy servicemen and women of the Cold War era. “This will be a fully active ship, unlike the USS Intrepid in New York, which is just a floating display cabinet,” said CAF spokesperson Kay Rendall. “It will be crewed by volunteers and retired ex-mariners. We plan to operate cruises all along the eastern and western seaboard of the States and over-winter in Norfolk, Virginia,” says Rendall. “The carrier will put into port when possible, to allow the public to tour the ship.”

According to the CAF, the ship will be restored to its full 1967 Vietnam War configuration as far as possible, and will include a fully representative carrier air group ranged on deck and in the hangars. Suitable F-4 fighters and A-4, A-6 and A-7 bombers are still being held at a vast government storage facility in the Arizona desert. Most of these aircraft will be non-flying, but it is hoped that one example of each type will be eventually restored to flying condition, to operate in authentic markings from the carrier. In connection with this, it is reported that a Florida-based syndicate is currently negotiating to buy an F-8 Crusader fighter plane from the French Navy, which retired theirs last year.

“On special occasions, paying visitors will be ferried out to the carrier by boat or helicopter and invited to experience a range of naval aviation demonstrations not normally open to the general public,” explains Rendall. “The climax of the visit would be a spectacular series of catapult launches and arrested landings of naval aircraft. The drama and awesome power of modern naval aviation will be made accessible to the public for the first time, in a unique way.”

“Obviously, several modifications will be required to make the ship suitable for civilian visitors. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we expect to be able to welcome the first visitors on April Fools day, 2003.”


The Red Air Force: 1974 to 1985

The years between 1974 and 1985 brought many changes to the Soviet Union’s Air Force (SAF). Changes that augmented the SAF’s overall combat capability almost to a point of challenging the West invaluable air dominance in the projected battlefield. This was a dramatic shift that caught many Westerns observers by surprise. After decades of overall decay in the SAF’s structural profile, the 1970s ushered as new era in air operational planning. The Kremlin had finally woken to what conventional air power was really about.

Since its creation, the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) had planned to counter the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Warsaw Pact ground and air forces with their high tech air forces. At the front point of this assumption rested the idea that the Western powers could bring heavy concentration of fire to bear with extreme speed and unmatched accuracy at any point in the battle. It was always understood that, even if NATO had the manpower in strategic reserve to counter an all out attack by the Warsaw ground forces, the incorporation of those forces into the defensive forward positions would have taken time. It would not arrive in time to stall a Soviet-lead push into Western Europe. How to contain the Warsaw ground forces from breaking out.

A Tu-95 Bear-C escorted by US Navy F-4s. (photo, via author)

For NATO, air power filled this gap. It offered the ability to strike hard and repeatedly at the choke points along the two Germany’s frontiers where the Warsaw land offensive would have to squeeze through. At the same time, tactical implementation of air power would be projected strategically because a large amount of American tactical aircraft would fly to Europe in the event of an all out attack. The concept of Allied air power holding the front against a Soviet ground incursion, provided there were enough deployed aircraft to do it, was valid and reassuring, especially since the performance of modern tactical Allied aircraft, and the effectiveness and accuracy of their weapons, had climbed exponentially on the back of commercially competitive Western technology to achieve an overall capability undreamt of in term of World War II. Inside NATO’s war planning, this air superiority had long been a comfortable thought of state that many believed that it would endure forever. Bu by the early 1980s, the situation looked different.

Red Air Force combat jet aircraft made its world debuted in the Korean skies during the 1950s affair. By the early 1970, all of those, first generation aircraft, were withdrawn from active service. The second generation of fighters and bombers, originally designed in the late 50s and early 60s, reached its developmental peak in the early 70s.
By the mid 80s, only about 10 to 15 percent of second generation air platforms remained in front line service as the third generation began to assert itself on the overall force structure. Third generation fighters and bombers made their debuted in the early 1970s thus its numbers rose steadily through the decade. It was this generation that gave the Red Air Force a broadly force structure comparable to that of its Western counterparts, although the later were still reckoned to have a margin in detail capability in all aspects, especially where this was dependent on electronics and weapon technology.

A pair of IL-28 Beagle bombers. (photo, via author)

On sheer numbers of available airframes, the Warsaw Pact had always outstripped those of the Allies, in the mid 80s; broad parity in performance was also within its grasp. Added to the equation was the Soviet’s monumental investments in research and development with dwarfed that of all NATO nations combine, with the exception of the US. A fourth generation platform was well under development by the middle of US President Ronald Reagan’s first term. By 1985, the Red AF was in the process of completing pre-evaluation of its fourth generation, air superiority fighter. A platform sorely intended to out maneuver the premier US air superiority aircraft, the vaunted F-15 Eagle. The Soviets were also working on a dedicated V-STOL aircraft for naval operations.
In the summer of 1985, analysis estimated Russian tactical air forces in the western section of the country had increased by 35 percent. The Soviet naval air arm was also climbing. The number of strategic airlift airplanes and attack helicopter quadrupled between 1974 and 1985. In twenty five years, 1970 onward, the Red AF increased their operational scope and war-load capacity by a staggering 1000 percent. The air force progress was as equally impressive as the Red Navy’s. Admiral Gorshkov gets much of the credit, and deservedly so, for the development of the Navy’s Blue Water aspects; but Soviet AF generals are to be praised for the formation of a top rated force.

With its overall new power projection capability, the Red Air Force possessed the capability to venture into the Atlantic and engage NATO’s European targets, including the most important air bridge base in the Continent; the United Kingdom. A though inconceivable in 1970. The new found Red air power could, if the pattern continued for one more decade, have made the deployment of US strategic reserve units into Continental Europe that much difficult, if not impossible. In conclusion, Soviet generals believed that they were just 10 to 15 years away from having a war winning air strategy.

– Raul Colon

The End of Germany’s Air Effort
on the Western Front

In the wake of the Germans ineffective and disastrous Spring Offensive of March-June 1918, most of the Allied commanders and even their political leaders, believed that Germany was a defeated country. Its Army has just suffered a massive defeat. A defeat that would certainly means the end of Germany as a cohering state. But if this was the case in June 1918, the situation in the air did not match the one in the ground. After the June offensive, many German Jastas (squadrons) operating on the Western Front were removed from the frontline to rear areas for re-fitting and rearmament purposes. New aircraft types such as the impressive Fokker D VII were assigned to those refitted units in greater numbers than early. In fact, by the end of June 1918, more than 270 D VII were distributed among the frontline Jastas. In an ironic twist of fate, by the time of the great German ace Manfred von Richthofen’s death on April 21st JG-1 was in the process of assimilating their first D VII units. The timeline coincided, more or less, with the arrival of the first American scout units over the desecrated grounds of the Western Front. The first American operational squadron actually arrived on February. Assigned to the Villeneuve sector, they carried out their first combat sortie on the March 15th when Raoul Lufbery led an unarmed squadron of Nieuport XXVIIIs over the dreaded front. Later on their tour on France, the Americans traded their Nieuports for the more agile SPAD S.XIII. Although the Americans entered the conflict on its later stages, their pilots displayed a flair for the dramatic very characteristic of their counterparts in the ground. Lead by Captain Eddie Rickenbacker (26 confirm victories) and Lieutenant Frank Luke (21) the American began raking up an impressive victory total during the summer and autumn of 1918 confirming their status as one of the most successful flying groups of the times.

Back in the front, on August 18th Great Britain launched its massive offensive along the Flanders section. The “Big Push” as the operation was referred to, was supplemented by thirteen squadrons of S.E.5as, seventeen equipped with Sopwith Camels, six with Bristol, fourteen with R.E.8s, four of the newly introduced Sopwith Dolphins, four with F.K.8s, five with D.H.4s, fourteen composed of the D.H. 9/9A platform, seven with F.E. 2b/d and seven additional units armed with the O/400 heavy bomber. In all, the British commenced their offensive with over 1,700 available aircraft assigned to 91 squadrons. Meanwhile, on July 18th, the French launched its massive counterattack on its section of the front. During the early days of 1918, the Aeronautique Militaire underwent a total makeover that included the much talked about unit standardization among its escadrilles. By mid June, most of France forward deployed escadrilles were fitted with the SPAD XIII scout pursue plane. Forty nine escadrilles, augmented another ten reserve units were available for the “push east”. In addition, the French possesses twenty three dedicated bomber escadrilles flying the vaunted Breguet 14, the Caproni 10 and the underrated Voisin 10. One hundred and forty additional units were available for action. Those supplemental escadrilles came from the French Army and its Navy counterpart. The total amount of aircraft available in the front dwarfed anything the Germans can deploy on that sector. Over 2,800 units were operational by the summer. The number would increase to 3,225 units by the time hostilities ceased. With such an overwhelming number, the Allies were able to achieve and maintain air superiority over the whole front from June onward.

On the other side of the lines, the Germans did not sit idle while her enemies regrouped. In the summer, Germany created a fourth Jagdgeschwader, JG-2, under the command of a veteran Bavarian fighter pilot, Ritter Eduard von Schleich. The Pour le Merite winner (1917) brought in an organizational structure sorely needed by Germany’s air force. Schleich implemented new formations and introduced new tactics that, for a time at least, gave Germany a fighting chance in the air. His JG-2 was able to inflict heavy losses to their enemies on limited actions. One example of it was the American Metz offensive of September 20th. In action over the small French town, JG-2’s pilots downed eighty nine American airplanes in just two days. Unfortunately for Germany, those types of accomplishments were an aberration rather than the norm it use to be.

By September, the Royal Air Force was in the early stages of receiving the first units of the much anticipated Sopwith Snipe dedicated fighter. The advance Snipe design was to prove so successful that the RAF utilized on its colonials affairs for up to twenty years after the war. Although ordered in great numbers and its delivery hastened by RAF commanders, the Snipe came too late into the conflict to directly affect the outcome. Nevertheless, the Snipe monoplane did leaved an impression on the war. On October 27th, Major WG Baker, a pilot attached to the RCF’s No. 201 squadron, flying patrol patterns over the Forte de Mormal, encountered seventeen enemy airplanes. Rather than turn back his monoplane, young Baker engaged the Germans and was able to down four (confirmed) aircraft, including three Fokker D VIIs; before he was force to land on the British side of the dreaded trenches. For his actions that afternoon, the British awarded Baker the prestigious Victoria Cross.

On the German side, like the British Snipe, they did not get their “next generation” pursue aircraft, the Fokker D VIII until very late in the war. This was the aircraft the Germans pitted their air fortunes on. Faster than the Snipe (approx. 10 miles faster by some accounts) and lighter at the controls, there’s little question than the new German parasol monoplane would have done more than just held its own against anything the Allies could put in the air. But time ran out for Germany. Internal strife, critical food and fuel shortages, coupled with the Allied penetration of their last major defensive line (Hindenburg) in October; forced Germany to the armistice table. In the end, not even the valiant German air force filled with one of the best aircraft ever designed, the “in erster Linie alle apparete” as the Fokker D VII was known to the French, could change the number situation.

– Raul Colon


The First World War, Hew Strachan, Penguin Books 2004
The Bomber War: The Allied Air Offensive Against Nazi Germany, Robin Neillands, Overlook Press 2001
Air Power: The men, machines, and ideas that revolutionized war, from Kitty Hawk to Gulf War II, Stephen Budiansky, Penguin Books 2004

The First One: General Benjamin Delahauf Foulois

In the historied life of the United States Air Force there’s had been a few officers who had stood up. A few, whom their contribution had shaken the very foundation of the service they represent. Much of them are relative household figures. Names such as Hap Arnold or LeMay are widely known in circles outside the military establishment. But for every Arnold or LeMay, there’s a Foulois. A brilliant and innovating pioneer, what Foulois lack in name recognition, he had in the admiration of the service he dedicated his life to improve.

Benjamin Delahauf Foulois was born on a small Connecticut town on the 9th of December 1879. He attended public school until he began his “pluming” career along with his father. He quickly realized that pluming was not in his future an in 1898, young Foulois enlisted in the First US Volunteer Engineers. He went on to serve in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American conflict. He took himself out of the volunteer corps and reenlisted on the regular Army the following year. Later on 1899, he saw combat action on the Philippines where he was assigned to mapping the island of Mindanao. After the Philippines, Foulois went on to attend the prestigious Army’s Infantry/Cavalry School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In the mid 1900s he participated in operations with the Army of Cuban Pacification. After his service there, he enrolled at the Signal School. It was at the school that he first felt in love with the idea of flying. He commenced to study technics and technical data relating to this new and exiting field. Following his stay there, young Foulois was assigned to the Office of the Chief Signal Officer in Washington, DC.

By the mid 1909, the now second lieutenant, piloted the Army’s first operational ready dirigible. He was also one of the first officers to be introduced to Orville and Wilbur Wright’s Flyer. In fact, he was Orville’s passenger during the Flyer’s last test flight at Fort Myer flying at nearly forty miles per hour. He had the distinction of being the only US Army pilot active between 1909 trough 1911. In 1910, he took the Army’s only available airplane, Signal Aeroplane No I, to San Francisco where he taught himself to fly, mostly by crashing. He corresponded frequently with the by now famous Brothers stating his flying experiences and suggestions. By 1914, Foulois, now a captain, took overall command of the Army’s first fully operational flying squadron, the First Aero Squadron based at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The new squadron was equipped with the newest Curtiss plane, the JN2 biplane. They first saw action during General John J. Perishing’s Mexican Punitive Expedition in March 1916. Although the overall perception of the aerial component of the Expedition, was that of a failure, Foulois and his team did gained value experience, specialty on the logistic aspect of aviation.

The next conflict America would enter, the Great War, found the now major Foulois in command of the Joint Army and navy Technical Committee. It was in this post that the young major first learned how to craft and manage a military procurement budget. The office he headed dealt with the development of the aircraft as a military weapons platform on a large scale. There, Foulois prepared a detailed $ 640 million budget, an massive figure at the time; which eventually passed both houses of congress. A major achievement and one that would give him much satisfaction during the rest of his life. During the dreadful years of the War to end All Wars, Foulois was temporarily promoted to Brigadier General and proceeded to serve in several aviation post across Europe. He first was named Chief of Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces, later on he was reassigned to Assistant Chief of the Air Service, Service Supply Division where he put in play the input gather during the Mexican Expedition. He even helped craft some of the air aspects of the Treaty of Versailles.

After his war tour, Foulois returned to Fort Leavenworth with the now permanent rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was briefly assigned base commander of the Mitchel Field in New York. In 1927, Foulois was promoted once again, this time to brigadier general and appointed Assistant Chief of the Air Corps. It was there that the enigmatic Foulois would make an enduring mark. During the May 1931 Air Coast Defense Exercises, Foulois employed all of the Air Corps’ airborne assets in a series of logistic and tactical trials that provided the ground work for the Army Air Corps’ World War II strategy. The success of the exercises earned him another star for his uniform and the promotion to the coveted Chief of the Air Corps post. He once again, had the distinction of being a trailblazer because he was the first Chief who was actually a combat aviator. While acting as Chief, Foulois re-organized the curriculum of the Air Corps’ Tactical School as well laying the groundwork for the eventual establishment of an independent office dedicated to tactical and strategic thinking. The office would be later known as the General Headquarters Air Force. He also drove the Air Corps to expend more time and effort in the development and eventual deployment of advance air platforms. The XB-15 and B-17 programs were a direct result of this effort.

As his star was rising, an incident occurred that dampened Foulois’ reputation for years. In the winter of 1933-34, contract difficulties caused the nation’s air mail delivery service to be suspended. Immediately, Foulois offered the government his Air Corps. As the spring moved in, the Army Air Corps began to assume regular mail delivery duties, but the Corps, not trained for this sort of profile, began to crumble under the stress of the operation. Regular casualties began to mount. During the spring’s months, 66 air crashed occurred, mostly due to poor weather patterns, insufficient mission training and the introduction of nigh flying, killing twelve men and injuring fifty more. As the Corps began to adjust to the realities of in-country flying, the crashes and for that matter, casualties commenced to drop. By the summer, the Corps mail operations ran almost without incidents. Nevertheless, the whole affair became a public humiliation for the Corps and its leader. The incident, which would be known as the Mail Fiasco tarnished the Air Corps leadership image with the public for a generation.

Exhausted, Foulois finally retire from the Army Air Force on January 1st 1936, following thirty seven years of frontline service. In 1956 he became the president of the Air Force Historical Foundation. A post he would serve until 1965. Two years later, on April 25th 1967, Benjamin Foulois passed away. The passing of this great visionary and pioneer was remembered by the Air Force in a quiet ceremony. Today, Foulois’ vision remains the core of the US Air Force’s main logistic strategy. A tribute by itself to the vision Foulois inserted into the Air Corps in the early 1930s.@

– Raul Colon

More Information:
wikipedia: Bernard Adolph Schriever
Astronautics Now
General Bernard A. Schriever
The Space Review
Air Force Link
Arlington National Cemetery Website

Latest Russian Air Force Bomber

The end of the Cold War and the new financial realities within the Russian Federation in the early 1990s, accelerated the decommissioning, and eventual termination of large portions of the former Soviet Union’s Strategic Bomber Force on-going development programs. In addition to these cutbacks, new aircraft development programs have been dramatically cutback and the aircraft industry itself no longer reflects the one that dominated Soviet society from the late 1940s onward. Nevertheless, studies into future bomber developments have continued, although relatively little information has so far, been made available to the general public regarding Russia’s newest bomber designs. The following is a partial view of some of the work that the Soviet Union undertook since the early 1980s. But, as with all related aircraft design information, it’s difficult to verify if any of these programs are still active today. In the early 1990s, the Mikoyan Bureau commenced a research study into a hypersonic, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, which may also have being given the designation of bomber. The Mikoyan 301, as the type was designated, could had flown at speeds of over Mach 3.5 utilizing special hybrid power plant that would operate in flight as a ram jet engine. To cope with the built up of heat friction, the 301 was designed to be built completely out of an new stainless steel alloy. The aircraft’s concept design was able to take-off with a maximum weight of 176,367lb. A variable geometry wing was to be employed in the design. By the end of the 1990s and the beginning of a new century, work on this spectacular design probably would had been shelved or at best, moving on a much slower pace than original conceived by Soviet, and then Russian authorities.

The next generation Russian bomber could very well have been the incredible Sukhoi T-60S. Few, if any, detail have surfaced of this design. What it is known is that the T-60S was conceived as a supersonic, stealth heavy bomber. Re-heat wouldn’t have been fitted to the aircraft, as the plane was supposedly able to supersonically cruise at high altitude on dry power, and its weapon system platform would have included cruise missiles, second generation precision guided conventional munitions and free-fall nuclear weapons. Some have speculated that this aircraft in fact entered full scale development in early 1990, but the subsequence collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, prevented any additional work on the project. In the summer of 1998 it was widely reported that the project was still ongoing as a possible replacement for the Tu-16 and Tu-22M bombers.

From the early 1980s onward, the Tupolev Design Bureau began to look for a potential successor to its successful Tu-160 bomber platform. The end result of these studies produced a pair of hypersonic aircraft projects. The first, designated Aircraft 260, was, from 1983 forward, intended to fly at Mach 4 at an operational ceiling of 83,000 ft and was to have an un-refuelled range of 6,215 miles. This aircraft was proposed to be powered by four Soloviev D80 jet engines mounted in a side-by-side configuration beneath a double delta wing configuration. The aircraft would have had a relatively flat main fuselage. There was to be no tail-plane on this new bomber, just a single tall fin. Its fully-loaded take off weight was around 396,825lb. A preliminary design project was completed by the fall of 1985. The next hypersonic plane design to surface in relation with Tupolev’s future design program was Aircraft 360. It had a similar layout to the 260 project, but was bigger and supposedly capable of speeds in excess of Mach 6 with an un-refuelled range of 9,323 miles. It could carry a massive bomb load of 22,046lb. Aerodynamics studies suggested that with a constant cruise speed of Mach 6, the aircraft would lose about three thousand miles in operational range. To obtain this incredible speed, the installed engines would need to utilize cryogenic fuel cells and, as a result, six hydrogen-powered units were intended to be fitted; all of them “variable cycle” types that could operated in both a turbojet and ramjet environment. There were to be two crewmen and the aircraft bomb load was to be carried in two wing root bomb bays. The design development program also envisioned the flight testing of a scale model plane weighting around 176,367lb, but the project was terminated in the fall of 1992 after some fuselage and fuel system parts had already been manufactured. Again, the program termination was in great part due to the strained financial situation in Russia

It’s also believed that Tupolev’s designers began work on a subsonic flying wing bomber concept as early as the mid 1980s, designated Aircraft 202, and with research still ongoing during the late 1990s, it was hoped by the design team that a version of this aircraft might actually reach hardware development status in the early 2000s. The aircraft was given a temporary designation of B-90, which stood for Bomber of the 1990s and the project was visualized as an intercontinental strike heavy bomber aircraft replacement for the aging Tu-95M Bear bomber fleet. But as with many of these exceptional designs, financing was a major problem and the project was cancelled in the early 2000s.

– Raul Colon


1. Aircraft of OKB Tupolev, Vladimir Rigmant, Moscow Russavia 2001
2. Soviet X-Planes, Yefim Gordon & Bill Gunston, Midland Publishing 2000
3. Russian Aviation and Air Power in the Twentieth Century, Edit Robin Higman, John T. Greenwood & Von Hardesty, Frank Cass 1998

The Current State of the
Cuban Armed Forces

Once upon a time, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR), the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba, was the single most powerful military force in Latin America and one of the most technically advanced forces in the Third World. Equipped with Soviet-provided military hardware and following Soviet military doctrines, the FAR transformed itself from a mainly defense apparatus into an expeditionary type-force of 200,000 men strong. This transformation, which started in the early 1960s and was the direct product of massive Soviet military subsidies, was complete by the mid 1970s, when Cuba sent an Expeditionary Force to the African country of Angola. There, the FAR cut its teeth in a ferocious combat with Angola’s irregular forces and with South Africa’s Defense Forces. The combat experience gained on the African continent, the sheer number of troops available for combat, and the influx of new Soviet-supplied hardware in the early 1980s enabled the FAR to field a formidable deployable force. A force capable of dominating any Caribbean base force except the United States. By the 1980s the Cold War was entering a new phase. Changes were coming and new players were entering the arena, a newly inaugurated President at the White House, a newly selected Premier at the Soviet Kremlin, and the forces of free market trade and international exchanges were reshaping the political and military landscape. Then, in 1989, almost overnight, the Soviet satellite bloc began to crumble. With the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, the Soviet Union cut nearly all military assistance to Cuba in the spring of 1989. Without these subsidies, the Cuban Revolutionary Government was not in a position to continue maintaining its force level. Major cuts were made to the force structure in the fall of 1989. The FAR, which at its peak was 210,000 men strong, was reduced by fifty percent. Today, the FAR force structure is estimated to be between 40,000 to 60,000 men in active duty, diluted between its various military branches. This current force level is compatible, per capita, with what other Latin American countries have fielded, such as Ecuador, Bolivia, and Colombia.

Cuban military doctrine still dictates that its major adversary must be the United States. The small size of the country and its closed-cycle economic system, made imperative that the national defense be made into a national movement, such as it is in Israel to some extent. The principal assignment given to FAR forces as assigned by the Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, currently headed by interim President Raul Castro, is the defense of the national territorial integrity of Cuba; a far cry from the days when Cuba could concentrate its armed forces on exporting revolutionary ideas to other continents. Economic support for the country, as well as civilian assistance tasks have become another main mission of the FAR. The Cuban Army has increased in the last decade its level of economic and social engagements with the civilian population. Construction, manufacturing, health, and transportation services are taking more time and resources out of the FAR, thus diminishing their conventional capabilities. The Cuban Army active duty force strength is estimated at 35,000 men, most of them conscripts, serving terms of two years. Cuba’s tactical reserve forces are in the 39,000 range, also consisting of mainly conscripts. They serve for a period of forty-five days per year. Added to this total, is the Territorial Militia, a civilian reserve force of nearly one million, consisting mostly of youths and older civil servants. The FAR today is mainly an armor and artillery force. FAR possesses four to five elite armed brigades as the backbone of its structure. These forces are assisted by nine mechanized infantry brigades with one artillery, one armored, three mechanized infantry, and one air defense artillery regiment in support. The complete force readiness level is low due to reduced training. The FAR mainstay platform is the battle tank. Current reports of Cuba’s main battle tank strength puts it at 900 units, distributed between T-34s, T-54s and 55s, and T-62s; all Soviet made and currently obsolete by Western standards. The FAR possesses a limited number of the PT-76 light tanks as well as some BRDM-2 reconnaissance vehicles. The FAR forces relies on the venerable BTR-40, 50, 60, and 152s; as its main personnel carrier. Estimates put the BTR strength at 700 vehicles. The Cuban Army possesses one of the largest inventories of artillery systems. Towed artillery systems in FAR’s arsenal are estimated at 500 units divided between the ZIS-3 76mm, the M1938 122mm, the D-30 130mm, and the M-1937 152mm. They also posses a small number of self-propelled artillery, around forty 122mm 2S1 and 152mm 2S3. Reportedly, the FAR also possesses 150 to 175 multiple rocket launcher system, mainly the BM-21 122mm. The number of M-41 88mm and the M-38/43 120mm mortars are estimated to be at one thousand. The FAR also have a small quantity of AT-1 Snapper and AT-3 Sagger anti-tank guided missile systems available to them. The Air Defense Forces of the FAR is equipped with 400 anti-aircraft artillery pieces, the backbone being the 23mm ZU-23 and the 30mm M-53 guns. They have a total inventory of nearly 300 surface-to-air missile platforms which includes the SA-6,7,8,9,13,14, and 16. An estimated 75% of the FAR military equipment is in storage. Economic problems have led to the cannibalization of equipment to support the active duty forces and to cover shortages in spare parts as well as a sharp decline in training, thus reducing the readiness and operational capability of the force. The FAR is no longer capable of mounting an effective operation beyond battalion level.

The Cuban Navy, as with the Army, was once one of the most feared forces in the Caribbean and Central America area of operation. The size of the forces have been steadily reduced in the past years, from 5,000 men in 1999 to around 3,000 today, plus 550 Navy Infantry Troops. Its vessel inventory consists of one Pauk II fast Patrol Craft equipped with one 76mm gun, four anti-submarine torpedo tubes and two anti-submarine weapon rocket launchers. It also possesses four Osa II missile boats to go along with 6 mine sweeper boats. There is also a smaller number of coastal boats as well as one intelligence collection vessel. For the first time since the 1960s, the Cuban Navy did not operate a submersible vessel. Coastal defenses comprised 122mm and 130mm artillery pieces and two SS-C3 systems. The reductions in personnel, equipment and training have left the Navy with no offensive capabilities. It can not operate outside its territorial waters and should be no deterrence against any foe. The most it can hope to accomplish in case of an emergency is to harass undefended civilian vessels. This is the same stage that the Cuban Air Force finds itself. Reduction in both manpower and equipment, the latter due to the lack of resources to maintain the aircraft air-operational have left the Air Force a shell of its former self. The service is staffed by 8,000 men and it operates an air inventory of 130+ aircraft. Of them, only 20 to 25 are operational. The backbone of the forces are the obsolete MiG-21 and 21F, supplemented by the MiG-23MF and around six MiG-29. Its helicopter fleet consists of 44 to 46 Mi-8/-17, plus 5 Mi-14 helicopter gun ships; its transport force of 8 An-2’s, 1 An-24, 15 An-26’s, 1 An-30, 2 An-32’s, 4 Yak-40’s and, 2 IL-76’s are mainly used for civilian transportation. The air-to-air missile inventory is believed to consist of AA 2, 7, 8, 10, and 11. Their air defense capability surrounds 13 active SA-2 and SA-3 surface-to-air missile battery sites. The majority of them center around Havana. This force is incapable of defending Cuban national airspace against an enemy with high performance military aircraft at its disposal. Because pilot training had been cut short and a lack of significant flying time by the Cuban pilots, Cuba would have to rely heavily on its network of surface-to-air missile systems to respond to any attacking force.

The intelligence gathering capability is the only area that has not seen a marked decline in effectiveness. Cuba’s main intelligence collection efforts are still directed at the United States. Over the past years, it had shared the collected data with many nations; Cuba also had entered an agreement with the Russian Federation to maintain the old Soviet Union signal intelligence facilities at Torrens

At present time, Cuba does not possess the military capability to shift the balance of power in the Caribbean region. Cuba’s Armed Forces have been degraded to the point where they would be hard pressed to save guard its territorial integrity against many of the Latin America’s militaries. If the current attrition and degradation rate continued, in the next five years, the FAR would be no more than a para-military force equipped with obsolete weapons systems to achieve its current military doctrine.

– Raul Colon


1 International Institute For Strategic Studies, 2003, 2005
2 The Military Balance, 2003 – 2004
3 The Cuban Treat to U.S. National Security, 1997, 2000 and 2005
4 Analysis of the Cuban Land and Air Forces, Redmunt 2006

A Brief Look at China’s
Current Military Capabilities

In the past few years, The People’s Republic of China’s growing military capability has attracted a great deal of interest, but major details regarding China’s near-future military strength have been hard to combine. At this very moment, China is spending massive amounts of financial resources in order to improve its overall military capability. This spike of budgetary expenses by China is setup in the background of the country’s need to upgrade its low-tech armed forces. At this time, reports have placed the number of deployable nuclear weapons China possesses at four hundred. Of these, around twenty are deployed in the Intercontinental ballistic missile configuration. Nearly two hundred and twenty are reported to be deployed in various delivery platforms such as aircraft, submarines and short-to-medium range missile systems. All of these weapons are of tactical capability. The remainder weapons are held in tactical reserves for short range missiles, low yield attacks and demolition purposes. The Central Military Commission, headed by the Chinese President, is the sole administrator of the country’s nuclear arsenal. China’s current Intercontinental ballistic missile force of twenty units is mainly used as a deterrence force. The main component of the system is the Dong-Feng 5 liquid-fuelled missile, with an estimated range of 13,000 km and can carry a single use, multi-megaton warhead. The Dong-Feng 5 was first deployed in the summer of 1981 and has remained the backbone of China’s ICBM force for the past two decades. Twenty frontline Feng 5’s are believed to be stationed in full alert somewhere in Central China. The Feng 5 was a drastic change from the early versions of China’s ballistic missiles. Those early missiles were mainly stored in caves and were rolled-out for launch. The Feng 5 can be launched from vertical silos after just a few hours of the order being received by their launch crews. The Feng 5 operational range gave China the ability to launch a small nuclear attack against most of Europe, Asia and some parts of the United States, mainly the southeast part of the country. Today, two additional missile platforms are deployed or being tested for possible deployment by China. They are the medium range DF 31’s, which entered first-line operation in 2005, and its long range variant, the DF 31A, formerly called the DF-41; which is expected to be fielded by late 2010. Both missiles are going to be propelled by solid fuel cells and based on mobile launchers. China is expected to attempt producing a multiple re-entry vehicle (MVRs) for their new missile systems. An attempt to produce the more technical challenge multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) is underway.

China also deploys intermediate range ballistic missiles and medium range ballistic missile systems. These weapon platforms are capable of threatening the security of many countries in Asia, including India, but its effects on the overall strategic security of Russia are minimal. China’s intermediate missile systems are also capable of hitting targets on Japan’s coastal cities and United States base stations in South Korea and Japan. The oldest missile platform deployed by China is the near stationary DF 3A missile system. This missile platform is being phased-out in favor of the more modern DF 4 and DF 21 systems. The DF 4, with a maximum operating range of 4,750 km, is still the backbone of China’s regional deterrence force. The DF 4 is a liquid fueled system that operates mainly now out of fixed launch sites. With the deployment of the DF 21 in 1986, China’s regional ballistic missile capabilities increased twofold. The operational DF 21 has an estimated range of 1,800km and is carried in mobile launchers for security reasons. The DF 21 is also the base of China’s sea-launch ballistic missile systems. The older, liquid fueled missiles can carry a single nuclear warhead of an estimate 3.3mt yield. The newest missiles also carry a single warhead with maximum yields in the hundreds kilotons range. China also possesses a limited number of short-range ballistic missile batteries. The DF 11/M 11, with an operational range of 300km, and the DF 15/M 9, with a range of 600km, are the backbone of China’s tactical force. Is believed that most of this missile platforms are configured to carry only a small nuclear or conventional warhead.

China’s bomber force is based on the local production of Russian made aircraft first deployed in the 1950s. With the overdue retirement of the Ilyushin IL-28 bomber from front-line, nuclear delivery role, the Tu-16 Badger assumes the role of a medium range, nuclear strike bomber. Being a product of the 1950s technology, the Tu-16 could only carry two or three nuclear bombs over a range of 1,5,00 to 3,100km. China is believed to have over 130 of these vintage planes in operational conditions. The Chinese Navy also operated the Tu-16 in a reserve role primarily. Although the Chinese Air Force possesses a great number of other possible nuclear carrying aircraft, such as the venerable MiG-21, the Russian supplied Su-27, and the newly designed JH-7s; they are not believed to be used for such a role. The Chinese Air Force also has a large inventory of strike and fighter aircraft at their disposal. It is estimated that by 2004 China has a total aircraft inventory of around 4,200 operational aircraft of many types. This inventory includes all the variants of the J-6 or MiG-19 fighter, J-7 or MiG-21, Su-27, IL-28 and Tu 16 bombers. Of these aircraft, the vast majority entered service with the Chinese air force before 1970. The tactical airlift aspect of the air force is at a diminishing capability. Over the last two decades, Chinese leaders have stressed the development of a localized aerospace industry sector capable of designing and developing advanced avionics needed for military aircraft. Despite the investment of large amounts of budgetary and human resources, the Chinese had not shown the ability to promptly design, develop and mass produce an indigenous combat aircraft. The recently revealed J-7, and the J-8, both of which took so long in their developmental stages that by the time they were ready to enter front-line services they were already obsolete by Western standards, showed China the need for more investment in financial and human resources as well as the training of experienced technicians to work in all aspects of the technical design of a combat aircraft. The same holds true of the most vaunted of China’s aircraft developments, the J-10.

China is not alone in this area, other countries had tried in the past to design and mass-produce indigenous aircraft systems, most notable Israel, South Africa, India, Taiwan and south Korea; all abandoned their programs in favor of purchasing existing and proved aircraft types from the five largest weapons producers: the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France and Germany. The main reason is the fact that the economic resources needed, not only to design a generation-leaping aircraft, but to be mass produced for local consume, are so massive that developing countries with a small industrial base simply can not afford to spend the necessary resources for a long period of time. This also holds true of large economies with a small gross national product output such as Russia, which is lagging far behind the Western countries in military technology designs. As a direct result of their failure to establish a permanent industrial base capable of producing front-line aircraft, China has renewed its imports of combat airplanes from Russia.

China also had the distinction of having one of the largest conventional military force in the world. The shear mass of numbers is enough to make a potential enemy think twice about provoking China. The truth is that, although the numbers of weapons are impressive, most of China’s military hardware is obsolete, both physically and technologically. Most of the weapon platforms utilized by China today, entered service in the 1950s, 60s and 70s and still serve the country in front-line units. Although the systems varied in age of development and deployment, the technologies used to create them are sorely based on Soviet blueprints of the 1950s. As a result, while older systems are being phased-out, the overall size of China’s conventional weapon force would be reducing. As of late 2001, estimates reported the size of China’s military force as 2.5 men under arms, of which, roughly 1.8 serve the People’s Liberation Army (China’s ground forces). They are divided into 27 military districts through the country. Within these districts lie 20 army groups, each containing around 60,000 men. They are subdivided into 44 infantry, 5 artillery, and 10 armored divisions. There are also brigade-sized groups in these army units. There are also three airborne divisions under the direct command of the Chinese Air Force. The reserve units are mostly compromised of infantry, artillery and anti-aircraft divisions. These forces are estimated to be composed of 1.1 million personnel. There are also the People of China Para-military units. The Armed Police, Border Defense Force and the Forces of the Ministry of Defense compromise a large sector in China’s strategic reserves. They counted a total of forty four divisions. These reserve formations are expected to increase in size as China moves forward with its major modernization and re-organization plans that emphasize the movement of active troop formations to the strategic reserve roles. The Army’s equipment is also being phased-out as new models were introduced to the force. China’s main battle tank platform, the Soviet designed T-54/55, also a product of the 1950s technologies, is no longer the main tank platform. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, China designed, with Soviet cooperation, and produced various tanks systems, but although their designs were more recently than that of the T-54, its overall capabilities are about the same. All of this changed in the summer of 1988, when China unveiled its newest battle tank, the Type 80. The 80 represents China’s first attempt at breaking with Soviet design concepts for a battle tank. The 80 had a formidable set of systems, some of them are: fire and control computerized? system, a laser range finder, a gun control system and night fighting capability. This tank breakthrough was followed by the Type 85, introduced in the mid 1990s as follow-up development of the 80. China’s latest main battle tank system, the massive T-90II, first revealed in 1991, is still not completely operational with the PLA. This new tank resembles in more than one way, the mainstay of Russian tank formations, and the T-72 heavy tank. China also possesses a force of around 2,100 light tanks, which as it is with much of their weapon systems, are based on Soviets designs from the 1950s. It is estimated that China’s tank strength is between 9,000 to 11,000 units. This number is deceiving; the majority of tanks in China’s front-line services are systems with over forty years of service life. Most of them could not function properly and a great number of them could not function at all. The most interesting part of the situation is that China, which, like the former Soviet Union, tends to value numbers more than any other matters, thus service maintenance of existing systems is poor. The same maintenance problem applies to the new weapons platform entering service today. Thus a major gap exists today in main battle tank design between China and the Western countries, the Chinese are in the processes of designing a new tank system that could compare with that of the Europeans; also they would like to emphasize quality over quantity. With these developments and the expected reduction in its tank force, China expects to be able to support its main battle tank systems with more efficiency in the future.

For most of its history, the People’s Army Liberation Navy submarine fleet has consisted of a small number of coastal vessels. The mainstay of their coastal fleet was the domestic produced version of Russia’s Romeo class submarine. It’s estimated that between 20 to 30 Romeos are still operational with the PALN. In the early 1970s, China decided to start a submarine development and production program aimed to build a local submarine in five years. It succeeded; the first indigenous submarine developed by China is the Ming Class. Although they are not better than the Romeos, they do represent China’s first attempt at self-sufficiency in designing weapon platforms. The next Chinese submarine class, the Song, entered service with the PALN in late 1999. In addition to these subs, China has purchased or is in the process of acquiring, more samples of the Russian-made Kilo Class submarines. In the nuclear-powered submarine field, China’s first attempt to produce a local system produced disappointing results for the PALN. The Han Class first entered service in 1974. Major power plant problems plagued the lead ship of this class. So much so, that the next commissioning of a Han Class sub was not made until mid 1980. China is also believed to be developing, with considerable assistance from Russia, a follow-on nuclear attack submarine, very similar to the Russian’s Victor III Class. China’s SSBN force consists of the Xia Class submarine, which is fitted to launch twelve Ju Lang-1 missiles with a single warhead of 200-300kt and an operational range of 1,700km. In part to its technical difficulties, the Xia Class is never deployed beyond regional waters. The newer submarine class, codename Type 094, would have better reactors and a quieter signature than its predecessors. This new class would be able to deploy 16 JL-2 missile, each capable of carrying up to six nuclear warheads. China’s surface fleet has been growing in size since the 1970s. The Chinese posses a number of Soviet-build Sovremenny destroyers as its main surface fleet weapon platform. They are equipped to carry the advanced SS-N-22 Sunburn supersonic, anti-shipping missile system. The Chinese are also building its own class of destroyers, the Luhai Class which displaces 6,000 tons. The lead ship of this class entered service in late 1999. The largest class of destroyers China operates is the Luda Class. China operates about sixteen of these ships. The remaining force is compromised of 37 frigates. As in the case of destroyers, China’s frigate force is mostly used as an air-defense force. China’s amphibious assault fleet is the Achilles heels of the PALN. China possessed around 49 amphibious assault vessels with full displacement of 1,000 tons. Many of these vessels are vintage WW II systems. Most of them, being United States Navy’s LST used in assaults around the South Pacific. China is planning to deploy an aircraft carrier. They are looking at buying a platform, most likely from Russia. The carrier probably needs to be conventional on take-off and landing aircraft since China does not posses vertical, short take-off and landing aircraft capability. Since China would probably would like to supply the air wings of the carrier with its J-10 fighters and Su-27 fighter-bombers, they would probably would need a carrier platform that could displace around 50,000 tons, which would put China in the need to acquire a carrier like the Russian Kuznetsov or the French Charles de Gaulle. China’s need to acquire a carrier capability is probably more for internal promotion that to actually being a first attempt by them to deploy a Blue Water navy.

The small size of China’s amphibious fleet excludes the Chinese of taking control of Taiwan by means of an amphibious assault. In the past, Chinese leaders had threatened to take action against Taiwan if the island, which China considered a renegade province, decided to declare its independence. The reality is that even if China decided to use force, it lacked the necessary military resources needed to complete the operation. An amphibious assault, which is the only mean China could take control of Taiwan’s territory, is out of the equation. First, China can only transport one armored division across the Straits, and even this would be hard to accomplish. Second, any amphibious landing would need complete control over the skies in the Strait, which the Chinese air force probably could not accomplish. Finally, both Taiwan and the United States could see the signs of pending military offensive months before the actual event. What China could do is to attack Taiwan with a barrage of missiles, the DF 15 and the DF 11. These missile systems are not accurate enough to destroy strategic targets such as airfields, radar stations and transport facilities; their only use would be as terror weapons, such as the V-2 or the Scud. If they are not fitted with nuclear warheads, the damage they could cause would be similar to a natural disaster. China also possesses a limited number of these missiles and any missile siege would be limited in duration. A naval blockade of the island is possible, but due to the strong U.S. statement regarding any attack on Taiwan and the notion of a powerful U.S. fleet coming to relive the besieged island, China would be hard pressed to perform any naval operation in the area.

The reality is that China is investing massive amounts of money to modernize its armed forces, but the current force structure is so old, that the rate of retirement will surpass the rate of acquisition in all major weapon platform systems. This fact means that China overall military force would decrease in size. Aircraft, missile systems and ground combat systems would decrease in numbers, the only possible exception could be China’s surface ship fleet. Also, the modernization process is slow due to the massive investment needed to accomplish it. China is also adding a small number of new technology weapon systems to its overall arsenal. New weapon platforms are purchased in small quantities, which can not dramatically alter the balance of power. China current acquisitions of Russian systems are not as impressive as they might look. Those systems are not comparable to the ones fielded by the United States or Japan. The main problem of China’s militarization might be their inability to produce a continuous indigenous weapon industry to produce next-generation military technology. Which could be used on their existing or newest systems? The recent reversal of policy from the Chinese government, from developing its own weapon systems to purchasing systems, mainly from Russia and Israel; has left the government in Peking without control over the military they so desperately desire. For the foreseeable future, China’s potential military action, mainly against Taiwan, is limited, let alone branching out of the regional setting they are now. Overall, the balance of power in East Asia would remain the same for the next decade.

1 John W. Lewis and Hua di, China’s Ballistic Missile Programs: Technologies, Strategies, Goals, International Security, Original: July 1997 – Updated December 2006.
2 Jeffrey Lewis, The Ambiguous Arsenal, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, May-June 2003.
3 Bill Gertz, China Advances Missile Program, Washington Times, June 22, 2005.
4 NTI and The Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, China Profile: Nuclear Capabilities, Nuclear Treaty Initiative, Fall 2003.

– Raul Colon