Venezuela Buys $2B+ of Russian Tanks, Rockets… and More?
In November 2005, the title “F.I. Looks At Latin American Arms Market, Sees Venezuelan Buildup” said it all. In 2006, “Venezuela Buying SU-30s, Helicopters, et. al. From Russia” covered a $3 billion arms deal with Russia for SU-30MK2 fighters, and Mi-17/26/35 transport and attack helicopters. Reports in December 2007 indicated a Russian desire to raise those exports to $12 billion over the medium term.
In the wake of Chevez’ purchases, neighbors like Colombia and Brazil have increased their defense budgets, and launched purchases of their own. Now, the latest large-scale deal involving Russia and Venezuela involves tanks, rocket artillery, and air defense missiles…
Sept 14/09: Fresh from the discovery of a 7-8 trillion ft3 natural gas strike off its coasts, Venezuela receives a $2.2 billion line of credit to buy weapons from Russia. During his Russian visit, Hugo Chavez also reportedly signed deals for 92 T-72 tanks, and an undisclosed number of Smerch-M BM 9K58 long-range multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) artillery, which can fire an array of rockets up to 90 km.
Venezuela’s army currently deploys a small number of Israel Military Industries’ 160mm LAR-160 MLRS systems, mounted on AMX-13 tank chassis. Their armored force currently uses old French AMX-30s, a smaller number of AMX-13 light tanks, and British FV-101 Scorpion 90s, which weigh less than 10 tonnes and deploy a 90mm gun on a light aluminum-armored chassis.
Some sources indicate that the tank buy is the result of recent friction with Colombia, when Chavez ordered Venezuelan armored units to the border, but very few of the tanks were in good enough condition to make the trip. Verification of those claims is difficult via public sources, but that sort of thing is not uncommon in many militaries around the world. Many prioritize the flash and dazzle of the weapons themselves, and neglect the humdrum but critical task of maintenance.
Chavez also boats of “rockets” with a 300 km range, which “do not miss.” Along those lines, RIA Novosti reports refer to pending deals via this credit line for a multi-layered air defense system that would include Russian S-300 systems with ranges up to 195 km, and shorter-range 9K37/SA-11 Buk-M2 and S-125/SA-3+ Pechora missile and radar systems.
A less-reported aspect of the announcements was Chavez’ announcement that Venezuela plans to develop a nuclear energy program with Russia. Chavez added “We’re not going to make an atomic bomb, so don’t bother us like with Iran.” Who is a close Chavez ally, is also engaged in a nuclear program with Russia’s assistance, and occasionally professes peaceful purposes for same. See also: RIA Novosti | RIA Novosti re: air defense systems | ITAR-TASS re: credit line | RIA Novosti’s Moscow News | Agence France Presse | AP via Miami Herald | Bloomberg | Channel News Asia | CS Monitor | Ottawa Citizen | Sydney Morning Herald re: weapons and nuclear power | Bloomberg re: nuclear power deal.
- DID – Venezuela Buying SU-30s, Helicopters, et. al. From Russia. Purchase made in 2006.
- DID (Feb 3/09) – Venezuela Continues to Spark, Lead Regional Arms Buildup
- DID (Nov 11/07) – Russia Looks to Triple Arms Exports to Venezuela
- DID – Brazil Embarking Upon F-X2 Fighter Program. And roughly doubling its defense budget.
- DID – Colombia’s Defense Modernization