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Venezuela Air Force - Modernization

The air force benefited greatly from purchases of upgraded hardware in the 1970s and 1980s. The most highly publicized defense acquisition of the 1980s was the purchase of twenty-four F-16 fighters from the United States. At the time of their delivery in 1984-85, the F-16s represented the most advanced military aircraft in the inventory of any South American air force. In 1990 other comparatively advanced aircraft in service in Venezuela included the French Mirage 50 and older-model Mirage IIIs and Mirage Vs, retrofitted to meet the more advanced performance standards of the Mirage 50s. In June 1990, the air force also let a contract with Singapore Aerospace Industries to upgrade its older, American-made CF-5A and CF-5B fighter aircraft.

In order to reinforce his fleet of helicopters, it acquired the Bell systems 214 and 412, as well as the French system Super Puma. For the medium transport it operates the system Aeritalia G-222 and for the executive transport the systems are procured 20 Falcon and Gulfstream III.

On 10 September 2004, a UPI newswire detailing Venezuela's plans to acquire MiG-29 fighters prompted additional press rumors over the status of a possible deal between Venezuela and Russia that has resurfaced every several months since late 2001. The press reports cite US, European, and Latin American military intelligence officials. In sharp contrast to Russia's 2001 proposal, which outlines a nearly USD two billion offer, the reports describe the contract as worth USD five billion. Details about the materiel and support Russia is to provide, however, are roughly consistent with the 2001 offer. Both reports mention the purchase of 40 one-seat MiG 29s, 10 two-seat MiG 29s, and training and maintenance for the planes.

Press reports also cited a contract to buy MI-17 helicopters from Russia and radar systems from China. On 22 September 2004, Chavez confirmed he had bought Russian helicopters to help patrol the Colombian border after a 17 September ambush claimed the lives of five Venezuelan soldiers. DAO reporting (REFTEL) suggests this deal may include a package of MI-17, MI-35, and MI-26 helicopters for USD 190-450 million.

Although Venezuela's signed contracts sometimes fall apart, the GOV appears to have purchased Russian helicopters. Any deal on MiGs, however, will probably take longer to ink. Acquiring Russian fighters would involve a shift in technology, maintenance, and training for which the FAV is unprepared. Moreover, buying MiGs would also alienate Chavez's US-trained F-16 squadron and give his opposition fodder to condemn government waste. The GOV, which has counter-offered in the past with ill-defined joint ventures and barter deals for Venezuelan aluminum and petroleum, will remain reluctant to pay the up-front cash required by Moscow. Even spread out over several years, a USD 2-5 billion purchase would put a severe dent in Venezuela's budget.

The logistical and practical details notwithstanding, Chavez sought a way to free Venezuela from reliance on US training and parts. He may view buying a new fleet of fighters from Russia as an easy solution to his decaying F-16 squadron. Only six of the 21 remaining F-16s in the Venezuelan fleet are fully mission capable, while a proposed US overhaul of the F-16 squadron remained on hold.

The US moved to block a proposed $100 million Israeli update of Venezuela's American-bought F-16s, and also on a $2 billion Spanish sale to Venezuela of 12 C-295/C-235MP aircraft.

On 29 March 2005, Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez announced that a $1.7 billion (€1.3 billion) sale of vessels and airplanes was being negotiated. This deal would involve coast guard boats, frigates and aircraft. The US said in November 2005 that it would "review" technology licensing issues related to the sale of 12 Spanish transport aircraft to Venezuela. The Tucano prop planes are built by Brazil's Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica SA, the world's fourth-largest aircraft maker. The US blocked efforts to acquire 24 Super Tucano Brazilian military aircraft as part of an ongoing "war" between the two countries. Brazil needed US approval to sell the aircraft as they utilize US technology.

Hugo Chávez embarked on a multi-billion-dollar weapons purchasing program that includes 24 modern Sukhoi SU-30MK2 fighter jets. Contracts were signed for 24 Su-30MK2 planes on 17 July 2006. At that time Sergei Ivanov said 30 Su-30 Flanker air-superiority fighters and 30 helicopters would be supplied to Venezuela. The Russian Su-30 Flankers will replace the Venezuelan contingent of US F-16 multi-role fighters. Washington imposed an embargo on arms sales to the country 15 May 2006.

It is an open secret that the Russian defense industry is an important trough at which senior officials feed, and weapons sales continue to enrich many. Defense analysts attribute Russia's decision to sell weapons that the Venezuelan military objectively did not need due to the interest of both Venezuelan and Russian government officials in skimming money off the top. The sale of Su-30MK2 fighter-bombers was cited as a specific example where corruption on both ends facilitated the off-loading of moth-balled planes that were inadequate for the Venezuelan Air Force's needs.

During the 07 September 2008 episode of his Sunday television show "Alo Presidente," Chavez needled the opposition during his program inviting them to "make up rumors" about secret Russian bases in Venezuela for storing atomic bombs and nuclear submarine pens beneath Orchilla island. Chavez joked that he would fly a Suhkoi to pick up his compatriot Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and buzz Miami on their way to visit Castro in Cuba. Chavez declared that Venezuela was "free and nobody's colony" and that the "yanquis and pitiyanquis could squeal all they wanted." [Chavez is not a pilot, and the Sukhois are single-seat models]

On 28 September 2006, Russia arms exporter Rosoboronexport announced that in accordance to a 3.5 billion dollar arms deal signed with Venezuela, it planned to establish helicopter maintenance and upgrade facilities, as well as deliver 58 Mi-17B5 Hip H, Mi-35M Hind and Mi-26T Havoc helicopters. As part of the deal, Venezuela purchased 24 Su-30MK fighters for 1.5 billion dollars. Two of the fighters were expected by the end of 2006, and the rest were to be delivered by 2008. President Hugo Chavez said 04 August 2008 Venezuela had taken delivery of 24 Russian Sukhoi fighter jets, and warned the U.S. Fourth Fleet that his country is ready to defend itself.

Negotiations were underway on the purchase of 12 Il-76 Candid military transport aircraft for the Venezuelan Air Force. Russia has several Il-76 transport planes available for sale after a deal with China fell through. By May 2008 negotiations were underway on the purchase of 10 Il-76 Candid military transport planes and two Il-78-MK aerial tankers for the Venezuelan Air Force. The contract will be worth a total of $600 million.

In 2008 Venezuela negotiated with the Chinese government the acquisition of 24 K-8 (Karakorum) planes for training and border protection purposes. This was China's first major breakthrough in military sales to Latin America. Venezuela’s decision to purchase the aircraft was driven in part by its inability to purchase US fighters, or spare parts for its existing fleet of US aircraft, as well as successful US efforts to block otherWestern countries from selling to Venezuela similar aircraft that incorporated US technology. This acquisition was made in substitution of the purchase of 24 Brazilian-made Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucanos that was vetoed by the United States due to the fact that these planes contain American technology.

The agreement to purchase the K-8 aircraft from China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC), along with armament and a supporting logistics package, was made inAugust 2008. During his visit to Beijing on 24 September 2008, Chavez signed an agreement to purchase 24 Chinese-made K-8 light attack aircraft, which Venezuelan air force officials said would be used for training purposes. The K-8s, which were scheduled to arrive in Venezuela during 2009, would operate from the Teniente Vicente Landaeta Gil Air Base near the city of Barquisimeto in Lara state.

In the second half of 2009, 11 Venezuelan pilots and 56technicians were sent to China for training on the aircraft as pilots and maintenance and logistics support staff. The first 6 K-8s were officially received in March 2010, with the another 12 arriving in August. They were assigned to the 12th fighter Air Group, based atthe air base Rafael Urdaneta de Maracaibo, and to the 15th Special Operations group, at the air base Vicente Landaeta Gil de Barquisimeto.

In addition, the Venezuelan military leadership has also been evaluating the more capable Chinese L-15 Air King, with a proposal by Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation to sell 24 of the aircraft. Beyond fighters, the government has also declared that it will purchase 10-12 Y-8 Chinese medium military transport aircraft, each capable of carrying up to88 persons or 20 tons of cargo.

The Venezuelan government also reinforced its border protection equipment with the acquisition of seven additional Chinese long-range JYL-1 radars which should be operational and be able to monitor 100 percent of Venezuela’s airspace by 2013. The Chinese installed a command and control center for the Venezuelanradars, in a military base near Caracas, at the end of 2008. Between April and August of the same year, Venezuela sent a total of 70 officers to the PRC fortraining on the operation and maintenance of the system.

In September 2009 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced plans to create a multi-layered air defense network that will comprise Russian-made S-300, Buk-M2 and Pechora air defense systems to ensure the protection of Venezuelan air space and key infrastructure from various ranges, with the help of a Russian $2.2 bln loan.

By 2010 Russia had exported Su-30MK2 Flanker-G aircraft, Mi-17B-5 Hip-H, Mi-35 Hind-E helicopter gunships as well as Mi-26T Halo freight transport helicopters to Venezuela. In July 2012 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he was interested in buying Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E multirole fighter jets from Russia to enhance his country’s defense capabilities. “I have already sent a statement to the government of Russia that we are ready to consider buying in the next few years Su-35 fighters to modernize and enhance our defense powers,” Venezuela’s national radio quoted Chavez as saying.

The death of President Chavez in 2013 marked an end to the era of major investments in military modernisation, with the subsequent administration of Nicholas Maduro facing a crash in global oil prices from 2014. By March 2016 Moscow was expecting a response from Caracas on the commercial offer of selling 12 Su-30 fighter jets, the deputy head of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation said. "The according negotiations have been held and the customer has been given an offer. We're expecting a response from our Venezuelan parnters," Anatoly Punchuk told RIA Novosti in an interview 29 March 2016 on the sidelines of an arms exhibition in Chile. In November 2015, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro confirmed the intention to buy 12 new Su-30 fighter jets for multiple purposes, including the fight against drug trafficking, particularly from Colombia. But the difficult economic situation ever since made prospects for further acquisitions of high end fighter jets unlikely.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2021 18:39:05 ZULU