In 2008, under the government of Manuel Zelaya Rosales, Honduras asked the United States for military aid to include 4 Maule MXT-7-180 aircraft with Lycoming O-360-C1F engines. They also asked for replacements for the current AT-27 flight training aircraft.
Somewhere along the line, that request, which was granted, got delayed, and the aircraft were never received.....until now.
The US Southern command has now delivered two batches of two Maule aircraft, painted a fetching yellow, to the Honduran Air Force.
These are relatively slow aircraft (top speed 164 MPH or 256 KMH) that can carry up to six passengers, or equivalent weight in cargo, for up to 1000 miles (1600 km.).
La Tribuna said the Maule Air 7-180s will be used in pilot training, search and rescue, and aerial spying, as well as disaster relief.
This echoes a story from June of 2008, in the Moultrie, Georgia, Observer that quoted Honduran Air Force Colonel Jorge Cabrera saying that while the primary use would be for air force pilot training, they could also serve in search and rescue, surveillance, and reconnaissance. (Moultrie is the location of the Maule Air, Inc., manufacturer of these planes.)
Some Honduran press reports suggest that these small planes will now be used as part of the drug interdiction program in Honduras, though how has not been made clear.
The US Embassy in Honduras made note of the delivery of the Maule aircraft in a press release marking the visit of SOUTHCOM Commander Douglas Fraser.
So what's the explanation for the long delay in turning over the last of the Maule aircraft first requested in 2008?
Some Honduran media mentioned the suspension of military aid that followed the coup of June 2009 as contributing to the delay. Announced September 3, 2009, the suspension of aid came so late that it had no real effect on the political emergency. But that doesn't mean it didn't have substantial effects on specific programs. So we decided to try to follow the money here.
International media attributed the financing for the Maule aircraft just delivered to the Foreign Military Financing Program of the Department of Defense.
According to an October 2011 GAO review, over $6.5 million in Foreign Military Financing Program funds (administered by the Department of State) were suspended in September 2009. Suspended categories of aid were restored after the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa. A Congressional Budget justification of the USAID budget for Honduras, undated but after the inauguration of Lobo Sosa, projected $1.075 million in 2010 and $1.3 million in 2011 for the Foreign Military Financing Program. (The funding from this program for Honduras is not singled out in the "highlights" sections of the full budget reports, that give the only specificity to the proposed and completed uses of the funds in this program.)
This level of funding is a sharp increase from the total recorded for 2008 under the same program, when $496,000 was expended.
The sometimes unreliable Honduran media, however, gave the source of the funds for the Maule aircraft as a different program, Foreign Military Sales. Honduras received rather less from that program over the period of interest: $292,000 in 2008; $845,000 in 2009; and $117,000 in 2010, the last year for which we found data.
For those of you curious about how many Maule MXT-7-180 planes Honduras could have purchased with funds from either of those programs, we found 2007 models going for just under $160,000. A bargain.