If there’s one thing U.S. Marines and soldiers can depend on from their Air Force, it’s that the USAF isn’t just going to let them get napalmed. The idea of losing air cover never crosses our troops’ minds. The U.S. Air Force is good like that. Other countries…not so much.
Air Forces like the United States’ and Israel’s are just always going to be tops. So don’t expect we’re going to go dumping on Russia just because they have a turboprop bomber from 1956 (the American B-52 is even older).
We’re also not here to make fun of countries without an air force. There are 196 countries in the world (seriously — Google it.) and not all of them have air forces…or armed forces at all. Grenada hasn’t had a military since the U.S. invaded in 1983. Can you imagine a world without militaries?
The criteria are simple. We’re talking about the worst air forces among countries who are actually trying to have an air force and failing at it, have a definite rival to compete with and are seriously behind, or are actively fighting a conflict they can’t seem to win.
Oh, Canada. I hate that I have to add you to this list. I hate that you’re on this list. But Canada, you’re probably the only country on this list whose personnel isn’t one of the primary reasons. This is all about poor decision making in Ottawa.
Canada chose to update its fighter fleet of aging Hornets with…Super Hornets. At a time when the rest of NATO is getting their F-35 on, Canada is buying more of the same – probably for parts, so they can stop stealing parts from museums. The issue is even worse now that Super Hornet pilots know they can actually run out of air at any time.
The good news is first: Canada has room for improvement. Second, they could totally take on any other air force…on this list.
The worst part has to be Canada’s Sea King helicopter fleet and their problem with staying airborne. Just to get them in the air, they require something like 100 maintenance hours for every hour of flight time.
To make it all even worse, Canada is having hard time finding anyone interested in joining the RCAF.
6. The Gulf Cooperation Council
More than two full years after Houthi rebels toppled the government in Yemen, the six-state GCC coalition – consisting of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, and until recently, Qatar – are still unable to dislodge them. The reason why? Probably because much of the senior leadership is based on royal family lineage, not merit.
It’s a good thing their real defense is provided by the United States, because Iran would wipe the floor with these guys.
When the Yemen conflict first broke out, the Saudis launched a 100-fighter mission called “decisive storm” in an effort to help dislodge the rebels. If by “decisive,” they meant “bombing a wedding that killed and injured almost 700 people and makes the U.S. reconsider the alliance,” then yeah. Decisive.
As of June 2017 the war is still ongoing and has killed at least 7,600 and destroyed much of the infrastructure.
The Royal Saudi Air Force, the largest of the GCC countries’ air forces, is upgrading their Tornado IDS and Typhoon fighters for billions of dollars, while the West sells them our old F-15s so we can all upgrade to the F-35 and they can keep hitting Womp Rats back home.
Also currently involved in the useless bombing of Yemen, Sudan’s Air Force is predominantly made up of re-hashed Soviet MiG-17s and MiG-21s from the 1960s. It’s a good thing for the Sudanese that they only fight forces that can barely shoot back, because this entire air force could get annihilated by a couple of combat Cessnas.
The Sudanese Air Force is so bad, they hire retirees from the Soviet Air Force to fly in their parades, and even they get shot down by rebels.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Most of their cargo aircraft and transports are also Soviets from the 1960s, which was unfortunate for half of Sudan’s senior military leadership, who died in an air force plane crash in 2001. And their most recent and advanced planes are Chinese trainer aircraft from the 1990s.
But wait, you might say that the future of combat aviation is in UAVs. Even then, Sudan’s Air Force is pretty awful. They buy old Iranian prop-driven drones, ones that can be used for reconnaissance or weaponized with a warhead. The only problem is that the drone can’t drop the warhead, it has to ram the target.
But even when they’re only used for recon, the damn things just don’t stay in the air.
If you ever got annoyed with a USAF Medical Group for having Wednesday off as a training day, or you look with disdain upon the nonners who work banker’s hours, despite being in the military, consider the fact that they still work and are on call 24-7 to work, deploy, or back up Security Forces.
If you want to make fun of a corporate Air Force, look no further than Switzerland, who doesn’t operate during non-business hours, 0800-1800 daily. During their off-hours, Swiss airspace is defended by Italy and France.
It reached the height of ridiculousness when the Swiss wouldn’t respond to a hijacked plane in 2014 and the other countries had to scramble fighters.
Pakistan has had air superiority approximately never. In the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War, India used British-made Folland Gnat trainer aircraft that were armed for combat against U.S.-provided Pakistani Air Force F-86 Sabres. And India won. It wasn’t even close.
So for the next war, the Pakistanis called in as a ringer to train their air force.
In the 1971 war with India, India achieved immediate air superiority over Bangladesh (then called East Pakistan), which is admittedly pretty far from the bulk of Pakistan’s air space. But surprise! Pakistan was still forced to surrender some 90,000 troops and Bangladesh was created from the ashes.
Pakistan sparked another war with India in 1999 but this time, they negated the need for air superiority by fighting most of the conflict at high mountain altitudes. The altitude limited the Indian Air Force’s ability to support its ground troops.
These days, the PAF has no Air Superiority Fighters and no Airborne Early Warning and Control planes — India does. India’s transport and fighter fleet are also more advanced, newer, and carry better weapons.
Syrian airspace can belong to anyone who wants it. Anyone at all. Especially if they come at night, because the Syrian Air Force doesn’t have the ability to fly at night. By 2013 they became more effective, but the start of the Civil War, almost half of the SAF’s ground attack aircraft couldn’t even fly.
That’s only recently. During the 1948 Israeli War, the young Israeli Air Force was able to hit Damascus with impunity, despite being comprised of a bunch of WWII veterans who happened to have old German airplanes.
In the 1967 war with Israel (who also had to fight Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon, not to mention the money and materiel coming from every other Arab country), two-thirds of Syria’s Air Force was destroyed on the ground. On the first day. The rest of the SAF sat out that war.
In 1973, the Syrians were actually able to hit Israeli positions, but that’s only because the IDF’s air forces were busy either in Egypt or napalming entire Syrian armored columns while their air cover was away.
The biggest loss against Israel came in the 1982 Lebanon War, where 150 aircraft from Syria and Israel fought for six days straight. Israel shot down 24 Syrian MiG-23s – without losing a single plane. The battle became known as the “Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot.”
1. North Korea
Big surprise here. Military experts straight up say the Korean People’s Army Air Force is the “least threatening branch” of the North Korean military.
That’s a big deal, considering their Navy is also a mess and that the only reason anyone fears a war with North Korea is because they have a thousand rockets and artillery shells pointed at Seoul. It says a lot about you when the only reason you haven’t been destroyed is because we care more about one city on the other side of the border than your entire shit country.
Historically, the North’s airborne successes came because of their patron in the Soviet Union. That was a long time ago.
North Korean pilots get something like 20 flight hours a year. If you think about it, I almost tied them and I didn’t even train. And when they do train, fuel reserves for actual flying are so scarce that their primary simulator is their imagination.
Their aircraft are so old, a few of them could have actually fought in the Korean War. Against their main enemy (the U.S.), the best this air force could do is create a target-rich environment. Even with a fleet of 1,300 planes, the only credible air defense the North can muster is from ground-based anti-aircraft and SAM sites. Finally, there is a lot of talk about North Korean nukes but right now, if the DPRK wanted to nuke someone in a war, they’d have to sneak the nuke in on horseback. If there’s a horse they didn’t eat already.
Blake Stilwell is a traveler, writer, and adventurer with degrees in design, television & film, and international relations. He is a veteran US Air Force Combat Photojournalist who has worked for ABC News, NBC, and HBO. Blake is based in Hollywood, but often found elsewhere.
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