Title: The Current State of the Cuban Air Force
Authors: Raul Colon
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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 small 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. One that was 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 shaping the political and military landscape. Then, in 1989, almost overnight, the Soviet satellite block began to crumble. With the disintegration of the Soviet block, 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 close-cycle economic system, made imperative that the national defense be made into a national movement, such as it is in Israel at some extent. The principal assignment given to FAR forces as assigned by the Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces is the defense of the national territorial integrity of Cuba. At the center of this new doctrine lies the Cuban Air Force. Reduction in both, manpower and equipment; the latter due to the lack of resources to maintain the aircrafts 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+ aircrafts. Of them, only 20 to 25 are operational. The backbone of the force is the obsolete MIG-21B and 21F fighters, supplemented by the MIG-23MF Floggler and six relative new MIG-29s Fulcrum. The concept of the MIG-21 Fishbed was born in the Korean War more than fifty years ago. The 21 rose out of the Soviet's need for a light, single seated defense interceptor with high supersonic speed and maneuverability. The first prototype took to the air in early 1956. The initial production versions of the 21, the A and B model, were built in limited numbers, a technique usually done in order to evaluate the aircraft's operational performance. The B (L) model would be the next-to-last version of the 21 to enter front line service; it did in the early 1970s and was the Americans top opponent on the Vietnamese skies. The 21B(L) is a single seated fighter bomber with a fuselage length of 51'-8" and a height of 13'-5", its wingspan cover 23'-5". The 21B is power by one Tumanskii R25 turbojet engine capable of producing 16,535lb of thrust. The power plant gives the MIG-21B a maximum speed of 1,385mph with a service ceiling of 57,400'. Operational range is 721 miles while on internal fuel tanks only. The B model is armed with one .9" gSH-23 twin barrel cannon mounted under the airframe. Four under wing pylons provide the 21B with 3,307lb of storage capacity. Usually, the pylons are use to carry two K13 infrared homing AAM missiles as well as napalm tanks. Supplementing fuel tanks can also be adjusted to the pylon system. Fully loaded, a MIG-21B could weight at 22,925lb. The other Cuban sample of the MIG-21 is the 21F, which had the distinction of being the type first mass produce version. It entered front line service with the Soviet Air Force in 1960. The 21F had a larger fuselage than the B (L). The F version airframe is 51'-9" in length with a height of 15'-9", its wingspan is 23'-6". As with the B (L) version, the F was a single seated, multi-role aircraft. It is powered by the Tumansky R11 F300 afterburner engine producing 12,675lb of thrust. The R11 gives the F version a top speed of 1,300mph. Operational ceiling is 50,000' and the range is 600 miles. The F version is armed with one NR-30 30mm cannon housed on the bottom of the fuselage. As with the B (L) model, the F possessed four harden under wing pylons used for carrying basically the same weapon platforms as the B (L).

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