09 February 2007

Things That Make You Go Hmmm....

In the face of rising inflation (78% over the past 4 years) nationalization of the country's largest electric company and the disappearance of staples from store shelves in reaction to government imposed price controls, comes this report on Venezuela's ongoing military build-up. The Su-30s are kind of old news, but growing bonds with a radical Iranian government in terms of arms and an apparent willingness to host Hezbollah should give one pause to ponder. Add in the ongoing de-construction of the Venezuelan constitution and associated freedoms - well, you decide...

Venezuela Strengthens Territorial Defense
Source: O Estado de Sao Paulo 05 Feb 07
[Report by Roberto Godoy: "Venezuela Expands Its Military Power."]

By 2012 the Venezuelan Navy will have the biggest and most powerful fleet of conventional submarines in Latin America. There will be 11 vessels, nine of them high-technology models and the other two modernized. Investment in the program is estimated at $3 billion. According to Navy Commander Admiral Armando Laguna, "they will all have the capability of operating in stealth mode for at least two months without receiving supplies from the outside during that period." In an official Navy communique, Laguna says that "as part of its aspiration to have fourth-generation submarines, the command has received offers from Germany, France, and Russia."

The Venezuelan Government is engaged in a vast reequipment program for its Armed Forces. The past 10 days have seen the announcement of three important undertakings involving the Russian Tor-M1 antiaircraft missile at $290 million, the modernization of from 12 to 16 American F-5 fighters by Iran, which will receive $70 million for the job, and the purchase of nine submarines. The result is military spending of $3.37 billion negotiated for the long term in one go.

The Hugo Chavez administration's main partner in the undertaking is the Russian Government. So far about $3.4 billion has been spent to acquire 24 Sukhoi-30 fighters, about 35 helicopters, and 100,000 Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles. A special line of credit for financing military equipment was released by President Vladimir Putin two years ago. The submarines that Venezuela is interested in will have a displacement in the neighborhood of 1,750 metric tons and will incorporate sound-reducing technologies. The Navy is considering three possibilities: the German IKL-214 -- the same model as that chosen by Brazil for expanding its fleet to six units -- the French Scorpene, similar to the vessels of that class acquired by Chile, and the Russian Amur, the favorite in the negotiations. The export version fires four light cruise missiles with a range of 300 km and up to 10 tactical or antiaircraft missiles. It also carries 18 533-mm heavy torpedoes and a crew of 35. The hull is covered by a synthetic mantle to confuse underwater detection sonar signals.

In an official communique, Admiral Laguna emphasizes that "the objective is to possess diesel-electric submarines ensuring the defense of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which is larger than the country's continental territory." Venezuela extends its limits based on its ocean island territory. As a result, the EEZ line defended by Caracas overlaps the maritime limits of Guyana, France, Holland, the United States, and the Antilles. The Navy employs two German IKL-209's that are over 30 years old. Both are being modernized at Dianca D&A, the local shipyard.

The Venezuelan Air Force has selected its main weapon for the impressive Su-30's. The first two aircraft out of a total of 24 were delivered in July of last year. The supersonic fighter jets will carry the most modern version of the Russian R-77 Adder missile. It has a range of 100 km and an ideal radius of 80 km. The missile weighs 175 kg. During the same speech in which he announced the choice of the R-77, Minister of Defense Raul Baduel revealed that the arrangement to be adopted in the modernization of the 12 American CF-5A fighters by Iran had not been decided. The Iranian aircraft industry has developed a project virtually resulting in a new supersonic jet based on the structure of the F-5 and characterized by a double tail assembly. Even the name -- Sae'gheh (Lightning) -- is new. The Venezuelan CF-5A's were produced in Canada under license during the 1970's. Little is known about the Sae'gheh. Besides the two rudders, which considerably increase maneuverability and agility, a new nose was created to hold the improved N019-ME radar, which can cover 80 km in surveillance mode and 40 km for detecting 10 targets. The fighter carries 5.5 metric tons of external loads: missiles, smart bombs, and extra fuel tanks.