Venezuela Signs $2B Arms Contract with Spanish Firms
In 2005, DID covered a report on Latin American arms procurement that highlighted Venezuela as the major arms buyer in the region. In November 2005, Defense-Aerospace.com translated a document (URL now broken) noting that Spain’s Minister of Defence Jose Bono had attended a contract-signing ceremony wherein EADS-CASA will deliver 12 aircraft and Navantia would deliver 8 ships; the total value of both contracts was EUR 1.7 billion ($2 billion), of which the aircraft represented only about EUR 450-500 million.
Other sources noted that Spain would deliver 10 C-295 light-medium transport aircraft and 2 CASA EADS CN-235MPA Persuader maritime patrol aircraft. Though the contract reports did not specify exact ship classes, the deal also reportedly included 4 corvettes and 4 patrol vessels from Spanish ship-builder Navantia.
Technology transfer export laws – and their accompanying restrictions – would play a role in this sale. Some parts of the deal would make it, and others wouldn’t. In the aftermath, work continues:
Suddenly You Find You’re Out There, Walking in a Storm…
In November 2005, complications arose. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at a briefing:
“In terms of the sale of some military systems by Spain to Venezuela, we have expressed our concerns to the government of Spain concerning those sales, and we are currently looking at technology licensing issues related to that sale.”
As we noted in our coverage when the USA froze Israel’s $100 million contract to refurbish Venezuela’s F-16s, the USA also sought to interdict US-derived technology related to the CASA aircraft sale, most probably with respect to the CN-235MPA aircraft electronics but also with respect to engines, etc. That issue has not yet been resolved, and CASA could source and integrate electronics from European sources at additional cost if it came to that, but the expense of redesign, re-integration, and re-test would be high.
In an attempt to defend the sale, Spain’s Defence Minister claims that the aircraft and ships will be used “…for the protection of the Exclusive Economic Zone and of shipping lanes, to fight drug trafficking, and to provide medical support to civil units and, thanks to their passive electronic countermeasures, for maritime defense.”
There was little sign that this will change the USA’s attitudes re: transferring additional military technology to Hugo Chavez’ government, and indeed it did not. Despite promises from the Spanish government, that sale fell through.
Which leaves the EUR 1.2 billion naval order. The high end of Venezuela’s naval force currently consists of 6 Italian Lupo Class frigates, plus some other vessels more suited to inshore work. For the current order of battle of the Venezuelan Navy main squadrons (Comando de la Escuadra), Coast Guard (Comando de Guardacostas) and riverine patrol (Comando Fluvial), FAV-Club remains a top online source for Fuerza Armada de Venezuela information.
The reports of corvettes, however, left a question hanging. The only corvettes Navantia listed at the time were AFCON consortium ships – the Spanish-American a group that created Spain’s F100 Alvaro De Bazan Class AEGIS air defense frigates and Norway’s Nansen Class multi-role AEGIS frigates. This el Universal report from Caracas, meanwhile, discussed “eight patrol boats, including four for coastal surveillance and four for ocean patrolling across the exclusive economic zone.”
It is possible that all 8 ships could be large patrol cutters, rather than full-fledged corvettes, but to this day that question remains unclear. See Appendix A for more.
Yesterday’s Gone: Progress and Developments
March 2/10: Navantia christens the “Yekuana,” the 3rd of 4 POVZEE 2,200t, 99m long Ocean Surveillance Ships, in Puerto Real Spain. Construction began in December 2008, and the keel was laid on Oct 22/09.
The same day, Navantia that same day delivered the “Guaicamacuto,” the 1st of 4 Venezuelan BVL 80m, 1,500t Littoral Surveillance Vessels, at its facilities in San Fernando. Atenia Digital [in Spanish].
Oct 16/08: Navantia announces the launch of the first BVL vessel at San Fernando-Puerto Real shipyard, in Southern Spain – the 79.9m “Guaicamacuto.”
Nov 28/07: Navantia’s shipyard in the Bay of CÃ¡diz hosts the keel laying ceremony for “the first ‘patrol boat'” that the Spanish company is building for Venezuela. Their somewhat confusing release adds that “Navantia has started the construction of the third patrol boat, for the control of the coast, and the first patrol boat for the control of the exclusive economic area, with the ceremony of the ‘cut of the steel’.”
Further research identifies the “patrol boat” keel as the one of the BVL type ships. Which means that 76m BVL vessels #1-3 are in the initial stages of steel cutting and construction, and steel has been cut for the first of the 96m POVZEE cutters/corvettes. Navantia’s release adds that “The missions of these ships are basically the vigilance and protection of the fishing zones, protection against drugs enforcement and anti-smuggling operations, and protection of the maritime traffic.”
Of course, the same claim can be and has been made for Chile’s Type 23 frigates from Britain, which are fully armed multi-role warships. Time will tell. Navantia release.
July 27/07: Venezuela’s government officially declares the EUR 500 million CASA C-235/295 sale nullified, ending all hopes of selling the planes. See “Love on the Rocks II: The Divorce is Official” for more.
July 14/07: El Universal reports that Spanish fishing boat maker Rodman Polyships lands a EUR 157 million Venezuelan order for 31 composite-hulled patrol boats that will be 17-30m/ 55-100 feet long. See: “Venezuela Signs $199M Agreement With Spanish Firm for 31 Patrol Boats.”
May 26/06: Venezuela and Navantia formally sign off, and construction of the 8 vessels can now begin. The news release has no permanent URL on Navantia’s own site, but can be found here.
It notes that his contract means 4.5 million working hours for the shipyard and the auxiliary industry around the de San Fernando-Puerto Real shipyard in Bay of Cadiz. This will keep the shipyard busy until the end of 2011, and also helps Navantia develop an up-to-date set of [coastal patrol vessel/ cutter/ corvette] offerings for the global export market.
Feb 14/06: For Valentine’s Day, DID’s “Love on the Rocks: CASA’s $600M Venezuelan Plane Sale In Heavy Turbulence” looks at the ongoing difficulties faced by the aircraft sale, and predicts its demise. The murder weapon? US export sanctions – and the very European defense integration that the Zapatero government has promoted.
When they know they have you, then they really have you…
Jan 12/06: The US embassy in Madrid confirms that The USA has formally blocked the planned sale of EADS CASA’s military aircraft to Venezuela under the 1976 U.S. Arms Export Control Act. The sale could continue, but all military technologies of US origin would have to be removed and/or replaced first. Defense Aerospace | DID report.
Dec 16/05: Navantia moves to clarify the nature of the “corvettes” it is selling to Venezuela. The clarification is partial. See Appendix A.
November 2005: The USA raises military technology export issues with respect to the sales, but an understanding is signed in Caracas on Nov 28/05.
March 2005: The Spanish government announces its intention to sell the aircraft and vessels to Venezuela.
Appendix A: The Nature of the Vessels
Navantia finally clarified on December 16, 2005. The company’s site doesn’t have URLs for its releases, so this copy on defense-aerospace will do:
“Navantia and the Navy of Venezuela signed on November 28th a contract for the construction of eight patrol vessels for a total amount of more than 1.2 billion euros: 4 patrols vesels for the control and protection of the exclusive economic area, and 4 patrols vessels for the control of the coast.
These ships have been designed by Navantia for defence missions of the sea around Venezuela: protection of the fishing area, protection against smuggling and drug traffic, as well as the defence of maritime traffic in general.
Besides the important work for the shipyards of Navantia until 2012, this contract means an important commercial milestone for the company, as it outlines its position in this market, with its own latest-generation project.”
Coastal Vessels: BVL
Length: 76.10 m (later revised to 79.9 m)
Width: 11.50 m.
Depth: 7 m.
Displacement: 1,500 t.
Speed: 22 knots
Range: 4,000 miles
Crew: 34 + 30
Economic Area Vessels: POVZEE
Length: 96.60 m.
Width: 13.60 m.
Depth: 7.20 m.
Displacement: 2,300 t.
Speed: 24 knots
Range: 3,500 miles
Crew: 60 + 32
The initial news characterization of 4 of the vessels as “corvettes” was not wrong, given their listed size of 96 meters. Compare with Sweden’s very well-armed and lethal Visby Class Corvette at 72m. On the other hand, the US Coast guard has cutters in the 76-96m range, including the WHEC High Endurance Cutters (115m), WMEC Medium Endurance Cutters (64-82m), and the proposed new “Deepwater” designs for the National Security Cutter (127m) and Offshore Patrol Cutter (109m). The larger Venezuelan ships are carefully described as “Economic Area Vessels” by Navantia, however, and no details re: armament have been reported.