Venezuela Threatens to Sell F-16s to Rogue States

Venezuela is threatening to sell U.S. F-16 fighters to rogue states, including Iran and Cuba.

Venezuela’s military is considering the possibility of selling its fleet of U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to another country, perhaps Iran, a Venezuelan military official said Tuesday. In response to a U.S. ban on arms sales to President Hugo Chavez’s government, Gen. Alberto Muller, a senior adviser to Chavez, told The Associated Press he had recommended to the defense minister that Venezuela consider selling the 21 jets to another country. Muller said he thought it was worthwhile to consider “the feasibility of a negotiation with Iran for the sale of those planes.”

Even before the United States announced the ban on arms sales Monday, Washington had stopped selling Venezuela sensitive upgrades for the F-16s.

Chavez previously has warned he could share the U.S. jets with Cuba if Washington does not supply parts for the planes. He also has said he may look into buying fighter jets from Russia or China instead.

U.S. officials have said a 1982 contract requires Venezuela to consult with Washington before transferring any F-16s to another country.

Certainly, Chavez has the right to buy his planes elsewhere. If, on the other hand, he tries to sell U.S. made planes to our enemies, especially in violation of the terms of sale, I would not at all be surprised to see those planes suddenly explode from mysterious, plausibly deniable causes. It happens.

Update: Michael Brandon McClellan observes that, “When American enemies resort to selling second-hand American war machines to other American enemies, and view this as a credible threat, it poignantly reminds us of the power disparity between the likes of Venezuela or Iran and the United States.” Nonetheless, he sees significant dangers in such a sale.

Spook86 notes that,

Short of military action, there really isn’t much we can do to block the F-16 transfer to Iran or Cuba, if Chavez decides to go ahead with the deal. But careful observers will note that neither Tehran or Havana is exactly jumping up and down at the prospect of obtaining Yanqui F-16s.

And with good reason. The F-16 is more than a sleek, 80s-era fighter jet. It’s a complete weapons system. If you plan to operate the F-16, you’ll need simulators, extensive training, infrastructure upgrades and a massive inventory of spare parts, among other things. Needless to say, those “extras” don’t come cheap. Beyond that, there’s the question of where you can actually obtain the stuff you need to operate an F-16 squadron. Limited quantities of spare parts and munitions can be purchased on the gray market, and Venezuela could provide some assistance in flight and maintenance instruction; but to make the jets fully operational, a customer needs access to U.S. contractor support and technical data, which (in turn) requires approval of the U.S. government. Obviously, George Bush and Don Rumsfeld aren’t about to sign off on an F-16 transfer to Iran or Cuba.

Certainly true. Then again, once upon a time, Iraq had plenty of pilots trained in flying American fighter jets. Still, the first F-16s went into the inventory shortly after the Shah fell.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. anjin-san says:

    Is Cuba our enemy? Funny cause I don’t feel threatened by them at all…

  2. legion says:

    What exactly does ‘consult’ mean in this context? And what, aside from not sell stuff to them in the future, could we do if they broke the terms?

  3. James Joyner says:

    Well, we could treat it as an act of war and destroy the planes for one thing.

  4. Herb Ely says:

    Does Venezuela have a maintenance contract for the F16’s? Without continued maintenance the planes will become (and maybe already are) expensive runway decorations. Does anyone know how Venezuela maintains it’s F16’s now and trains its pilots? Maybe Chavez is just trying to unload some expensive weapons that he cant use. Just guessing.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Herb: Good point

  6. RA says:

    It doesn’t matter. Neither Chavez nor the mulas in Iran have the pilots to fly them effectively, the maintenance personel to keep them running, nor the spare parts need to keep them running.

    As long as we don’t provide them with the above, those fighters might as well be very expensive paper weights.

  7. legion says:

    Yes, I seem to recall us selling some F-14s to Iraq many years ago… Strangely tho – we never got around to selling them the Phoenix missile that made F-14s so deadly in beyond-visual-range engagements… Not to mention the lack of spare parts for everything else on the plane 🙂

  8. spacemonkey says:

    If Iran gets them, they will paint them up in USAF markings and blow them up so it looks like they shot our planes down.

  9. Boyd says:

    legion: I’m pretty sure it was Iran that we sold the F-14s to, back when the Shah was in power.

  10. Scott_T says: had an article today about it.

    Yes Chavez wants to sell them to Iran, no they won’t have spare parts (so they’ll have to cannibilize some to fix others).

    Missiles for them are probably over 8 yrs old, as USA hasn’t sold parts to Chavez since he was elected (so shelf-life for older sidewiders, anyone?)

    Training, Iranians seem to only go on one mission, so who needs training?

    They are 20+ years old, Block A versions.

    If Chavez gets $$s from the Iranians he can pay the Russians to buy Mig’s.

  11. Ugh says:

    Well, we could treat it as an act of war and destroy the planes for one thing.

    How far we have fallen.

  12. Just a note on those F-14’s that Iran had at the fall of the Shah.

    When Khomeini’s followers took control of the embassy and staff therein hostage, there were still alot of Grumman support personnel in Iran servicing the F-14’s and training Iranian pilots. Khomeini made a deal allowing the Grumman engineers and trainers to get out, and they did.

    Ironically, the day after the Grumman engineers left, the Iranians found that although the planes would still fly, their radars wouldn’t work, their weapons systems wouldn’t “talk” with the flight computers and everything on the jets was essentially useless as weapons platform. WAY TO GO GRUMMAN!

    The Venutians don’t have any way to deliver the F-16’s to Iran via air, no in-flight refueling capabilities to speak of and no way to jump either Atlantic or Pacific. That means they have to be shipped. Since they can’t be shipped without taking them apart the likely-hood that they could get them working on the other end is virtually nil.

    What other commenters have mentioned about spare parts and weapons is true, but the near fact that once they get over, they’ll never get them off the ground again seems to trump the sale to Iran. They could “possibly” with assistance from other nations, make the hop over to Cuba, which would be some cause for concern. However, given that these are 1983 vintage F-16’s that were “monkey-man” versions to begin with and they haven’t been upgraded since delivery, I’d venture to say that if push came to shove, our 3rd and 4th tier ANG planes could make sort work of them. Not to mention that just a pair of F-15’s out of Florida could splash every F-16 that Cuba might be able to put in the air within minutes of take-off doesn’t seem to make this much of a threat other than in the eyes of our media.

    That’s not saying too much, especially considering the MSM thinks we give out “Purple Stars”.


  13. kenny says:

    “Well, we could treat it as an act of war ”

    I think supporting a coup against a democratically elected leader counts as an act of war anyway.

    Or the US could just claim that Chavez is developing WMDS…..

    “I would not at all be surprised to see those planes suddenly explode from mysterious, plausibly deniable causes. It happens.”

    Indeed, and you could also end up with Eagle Claw….

  14. Scott_T says:

    They might be able to be carried inside an AN-125 super-cargo plane, instead of being taken apart (well wings fiddled with probably).

    But the number of flights to get 21 out would be astronomically expensive probably.

  15. legion says:

    D’oh! Iraq != Iran.
    I blame Bush.

  16. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Legion, go figure. You blame Bush. Idiot, you blame Bush for your stupidity. Kenny, is there any communist leader, dictator, that you do not support? Some question the legitimacy of that free election you speak of. Just because Jimma Carter was there doesn’t make it real. Anjin, not. I am glad you make it clear that you support Fidel Castro. How many Cubans try to escape the hard life in the USA to travel by leaky boat the 90 miles to Cuba? What is wrong with you people?

  17. AHS ILERI says:

    Pls note that Iraq did not have a “shah” at any stage in its history, most probably alluding to Iran here… I’m quite certain that the mentioned a/c entered the inventory of Iran at the time.

  18. CC says:

    Geez, maybe Reagan was right about fighting the Lefties in South America after all….

  19. legion says:

    Well, Zelsdorf, at least you’re consistent.
    If you actually read any of this discussion thread, you might have realized I was making a joke about my own mistake earlier in typing Iraq when, as has since been noted, it was Iran that got our F-14s.

    Try switching to decaf.