CARACAS – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez formally took delivery on Saturday of the first four K-8W airplanes out of 18 purchased in China for military training purposes, which, however, came armed with machine guns, air-to-ground missiles, bombs and rockets.
Chavez said during the televised ceremony at a military base in the northwestern state of Lara, which he attended wearing the uniform of commander in chief of the Bolivarian armed forces, that the arrival of the aircraft made “March 13 a historic day for the Bolivarian anti-imperialist air force.”
This armament increases military capability for “defending the sovereignty of this sacred land and of this revolution,” he said.
With almost 1 million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) of territory and more than 600,000 square kilometers (230,000 square miles) of territorial waters and an exclusive economic area, “Venezuela will be a force for good, for justice, for equality, for freedom, a socialist power, and for that we have to be well equipped,” he said.
This warfighting equipment, he said, will guard “the country’s riches of water, oil, energy, gas, geographic location and its role as the cradle of the first great revolution of the 21st century,” threatened by “a counterrevolutionary opposition that would like the United States empire to take over Venezuela,” he said.
The president said he wants to buy a total of 40 of these K-8W aircraft.
“The project calls for 40 of these K-8Ws,” although with the ones already purchased “we will have the capability of training 40 pilots a year,” using a flight simulator that “we will inaugurate within a few weeks,” before the rest of the planes arrive in another two deliveries planned for 2010 “until we have 18 aircraft,” he said.
“We needed this stage of basic training to ready our pilots (to move on) from turboprops, especially the Brazilian Tucans, “to fly F-5 combat aircraft, now either restored or being restored, along with the F-16s and the Sukois” recently purchased from Russia, Chavez said.
Also taking part in the event was current Health Minister Luis Reyes, who last year handled, as head of the presidential office, the purchase of these aircraft, for an amount never revealed.
Reyes said at the time that, besides the K-8Ws, “we hope to acquire in the future a fleet of aircraft for the Military Aviation School to train combat pilots” and in that sense, “we’re looking for a medium combat plane like the L15.”
Two months after the K-8Ws arrive in Venezuela, Reyes said on that occasion, “we’ll judge whether it is necessary to increase the fleet” with more planes of that type or with others.
Previously, in February 2009, during a visit to Caracas of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, Chavez said that, besides the K-8Ws, he planned to buy from China a radar network that, according to then-head of the Operational Strategic Command, Gen. Jesus Gonzalez, “will increase the effectiveness” of Venezuela’s war on drugs.
Gonzalez referred on that occasion to “obstacles facing Venezuela” in its attempts to purchase aircraft in Brazil and Spain because of the U.S. ban on allowing sales of equipment with U.S. components or patents to the South American country.
“We have to realize that we’re practically disarmed because of the U.S. refusal to send replacement parts for aircraft and helicopters manufactured there,” the general said.
Venezuela’s purchases of military equipment from China follow its orders from Russia of 24 Sukoi-30 fighters, some 50 helicopters and 100,000 AK-103 automatic rifles in 2006 for some $3 million, according to Russian sources.
Additionally, during a visit by Chavez to Moscow last year, the government of Russian President Dmitri Medvedev approved financing of $2.2 billion for Venezuela’s armament spending, which later, according to the Venezuelan government, “made viable” the purchase of the Igla-S mobile anti-aircraft system and 92 model T-72 tanks.10/31/08 Venezuela reduces number of Chinese K-8 fighter jets to 18 -- No reason given for reduction from 24