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Air Force - History

Raul Castro established the Rebel Air Force on 12 April 1958 in Eastern Cuba when the Castro guerrillas were fighting ex-dictator Fulgencio Batista. It consisted of one single-engine aircraft, used primarily for communicating with exile groups in Miami. By late 1958, a few additional planes were acquired and at least one bombing mission had been flown. Upon seizing control of Cuba in January 1959, Fidel Castro purged Batista's air force, leaving only a nucleus of loyal personnel. From this core, the new Cuban Air Force was established at San Antonio de los Banos Air Base, Havana Province. This small force, flying aging US aircraft, played a pivotal role in defeating the invaders at the Bay of Pigs; consequently, 17 April 1961 is now observed as DAAFAR organization day.

In mid-1961, the Soviet Union began to supply equipment to DAAFAR. Now, virtually all items of equipment in the DAAFAR inventory are of Soviet manufacture. Initially an Army element, DAAFAR gained full service recognition in April 1972 with the elevation of the DAAFAR commander to the deputy minister level.

By 1980 the air defense elements of DAAFAR—intercepters, surface-to-air missiles, radar systems and air defense artillery — provided Cuba with a formidable, integrated, and closely coordinated defense against air attack. The tactical elements of the Air Force were the best equipped and best trained in Latin America. The Air Force also had a well-trained air transport element capable of meeting ordinary day-to-day needs of the Cuban military. As organized and equipped, however, it could not support long-range, large-scale troop movements even when augmented by the national airline, Cubana.

By 1980 theAir Force inventory includes MiG-15, 17, 21, and 23 aircraft, armed with a combination of weapons systems. The Air Force also has mediumand short-range transport aircraft, as well as attack and medium-lift helicopters. Cuba's operational surface-to-air missiles included SA-2/GUIDELINE and SA-3/GOA with their associated equipment and radars. Air defense weapons vary from 12.7-mm to 100-mm guns and include both towed and mobile systems. Cuba's Air Surveillance Forces were equipped with various Soviet radars, including the FAN SONG, TALL KING, FLAT FACE, SPOON REST, and BAR LOCK.

With some Soviet technical support, particularly for the newer and more sophisticated weapons, DAAFAR was capable of maintaining all of its weapons in acceptable operational status. Since 1972, the Air Force maintenance facilities at the "Great October Socialist Revolution" Military Enterprise and the "Yuri Gagarin Friendly Combat" Aviation Repair Depot have been greatly expanded and improved. Additionally, support-level maintenance facilities probably were located in each of the three zones.

As of 1983 the Cuban Air Force had more than 250 combat jet aircraft, and their MiG-23 inventory tripled during the past year. The MiG-23 has a combat radius of more than 500 nautical miles, so much of the Southeastern United States would be vulnerable to air attack from Cuba during a general war. Consequently, significant air defense assets are required to defend US territory from the Cuban MiG-23 air regiment. Castro's force of more than 160 MiG-21s represents a potent air-to-air threat and a formidable air defense umbrella over the island. The Cuban Air Force had become one of the largest and probably the best equipped and most powerful in Latin America, and its bases are defended by an equally capable and sophisticated air defense system. Its array of weapons includes SA-2, SA-3, and SA-6 surface-to-air missiles and 23-mm, 37-mm, 57-mm, 85-mm, and 100-mm antiaircraft guns in great quantities.

A Cuban MiG-21 fighter aircraft was flown to Key West on September 20, 1993 by a defecting Cuban pilot. In 1996, the Cuban Air Force shot down two US registered civilian aircraft in international airspace. On February 24, 1996, at about 1322 eastern daylight time, two U.S.-registered Cessna 337's were shot down after entering Cuban airspace by the Cuban air force. On board each aircraft were two people, one pilot and one passenger. All occupants of both airplanes were reported missing and presumed dead. The four pilots, Armando Alejandre, Jr, 45, Pablo Morales, 30, Mario de la Pena, 26, and Carlos Costa, 29, were flying a humanitarian mission for the organization known as Brothers to the Rescue. Their mission was to fly over the Straits of Florida searching for Cubans who set out on make-shift rafts seeking freedom from the tyranny of Fidel Castro.

As a result of this action, the President of the United States and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an "Emergency Cease and Desist Order and Statement of Policy," which allows for vigorous enforcement action against U.S. registered aircraft that violate Cuban airspace. Pursuant to an Executive Order issued after the 1996 incident, boaters must coordinate their travel plans to Cuba with the US Coast Guard. On February 27, 1996, the United Nations Security Council strongly deplored the destruction of the two civil aircraft by the Cuban air force, and requested that the International Civil Aviation Organization investigate the incident in its entirety and report its findings to the Security Council as soon as possible.

The operational readiness and effectiveness of the DAAFAR was severely compromised by the economic crisis and the loss of Soviet aid. Although Cuba is formally acknowledged as having one of the better equipped air forces in Latin America, consisting of several hundred combat aircraft and armed helicopters, the reality is that, by the late 1990s, a significant part of the fleet was no longer deemed operational. To become more self-sufficient, the DAAFAR's . Research and Development Center is also seeking to build its own aircraft, such as the AC-001 multi-use "Comas" planes that were first produced at the Yuri Gargarin Military Industrial Enterprise in 1992.

The United States Department of Defense estimated in 1998 that fewer than two dozen of the DAAFAR's MiGs remained operational. Despite the access to spare parts established by an accord with the Russians as rent for the signals intelligence facility at Lourdes, which is located south of Havana in La Habana Province, the DAAFAR's state of readiness is expected to continue to worsen. The mothballed equipment continues to deteriorate, and pilot training and flight hours, which are essential for flying the more sophisticated MiGs in the Cuban inventory, remain limited because of the cost of fuel.

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