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Armada Bolivariana de Venezuela
Naval Forces
Fuerzas Navales or Armada

The Venezuelan navy is not a blue-water force. Neither of its 209 class submarines are sea worthy and only two of its six LUPO class frigate are capable of leaving port. The lack of prosecution of sea-borne smugglers would also suggest little proficiency in surface surveillance coordination.

The 05 October 2009 approval by the National Assembly (AN) of 45 changes to the year-old Organic Law of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces included the deletion of "national" in the names of the Army, Navy and Air Force, but leaving the moniker "Bolivarian" from the 2008 reform. With a "Bolivarian" orientation instead of a "National" view, Chavez could deploy Venezuelan forces to other "Bolivarian" states in ALBA. Conversely, non-Venezuelans from ALBA countries could serve in the "Bolivarian Army."

The Venezuelan Navy has evolved over the 30 years from 1950 to 1980 into a very professional, well trained, and highly educated organization. Even so, it is still confronting several organizational problems. Although the second smallest of the Armed Services of the country, the Navy is responsible for very sophisticated weapon systems and for being, maintaining and operating an efficient peacetime force. With the development of Venezuela as a major oil producer and with world-wide favorable prices, the National Armed Forces of Venezuela (Fuerzas Armadas Nacionales, FAN) became one of the best equipped military forces in Latin America by the 1970s and early 1980s. This also was due to Venezuela's shared interest with the counter Cuba's military strength and influences in the Caribbean Basin. By 1980 the Venezuelan Navy faced one of its greatest challenges, namely to keep its high performance standards in the face of huge budget cuts, resulting from the income reduction due to declines in the world's oil price.

In 1990 the navy maintained a force level of approximately 10,000, a figure that included a marine infantry corps of some 5,000 personnel. The branch was headed by the Commander of Naval Operations, who exercised administrative and operational control over a number of subordinate commands, among them the main naval squadron at Puerto Cabello, the marine infantry crops, the naval aviation command at La Carlota Airport near Caracas, a River Forces (Fuerzas Fluviales) Command at Ciudad Bolvar on the Ro Orinoco, and the Coast Guard at Puerto Cabello.

The Venezuelan Naval Aviation Organization created in 1962 has experienced a continual evolution in accordance with changes in the environment surrounding it. From a tiny Aviation Office, it has evolved into an Operational Command within the Venezuelan Navy. Venezuelan naval aviation was not established as a distinct element until the late 1970s. During the 7 years from 1980 to 1987 the Naval Aviation Command experimented with several structural reorganizations in an attempt to find a suitable structure for its organizational requirements. With the exception of helicopters, all of its assets were stationed at La Carlota Airport near Caracas.

Marine infantry personnel were deployed in four battalion-sized units, referred to as "tactical combat units," headquartered at Maiqueta, Puerto Cabello, Carpano in Sucrey, and Punto Fijo. The River Forces Command was also subordinate to the Marine Infantry Command. The Coast Guard, established in 1982, maintained its headquarters at Puerto Cabello. Navy officer rank insignia were rendered in gold on black shoulder boards. Enlisted rank insignia consisted of chevrons worn on the sleeve, black with blue, red, or gold markings for the navy.

The Venezuelan Naval Academy (Escuela Naval de Venezuela) at La Guaira offered a five-year course of study culminating in a commission. Other naval schools at La Guaira included the Naval Postgraduate School and the Naval Superior War College. The Naval Training Center for enlisted personnel was located at Puerto Cabello. In addition, there were a Naval Infantry Training Center, a Naval Armament Training Center, and a Naval Police School.

After years of subordination to the army, during which it struggled with antiquated equipment, the navy began to benefit from civilian democratic rule in 1960, when it purchased a submarine from the United States Navy. Concerted upgrading of naval matriel did not really begin, however, until 1972, when Venezuela purchased an American "Guppy II"-type submarine; another followed in 1973, along with two decommissioned American destroyers. From 1974 to 1975, the navy purchased six "Constitution"-class patrol fast attack craft from Britain. It also acquired two German-built Type 209 submarines from 1976 to 1977. Six Italian "Lupo" missile frigates ordered in 1975 were delivered and in service by the early 1980s.

Despite Chavez' high rhetoric over deepening Russian-Venezuela relations, the VEN-RUS 2008 port visit and exercises were fraught with preventable problems. The actual exercise, VENRUS 2008, lasted a mere 10 hours. Three Venezuela frigates and the four Russian ships headed at 0500 on 01 December 2008, to an exercise area near La Orchilla island. According to local media, Venezuelan LUPO class frigates MARISCAL SURCE F-21, ALMIRANTE BRION F-22, and ALMIRANTE SOUBLETTE F-24 steamed some 50 nautical miles in the company of the Russians. The state-run Bolivarian News Agency (ABN) reported that five exercises, covering communications, refueling and replenishment at sea, exchange of aircraft, air defense and anti-terrorism were completed.

The Russian ship visit overlapped with Russian president Dimitri Medvedev's visit to Caracas. Fisticuffs broke out on the gangway of the ADMIRAL CHABANENKO as the security details of Chavez and Medvedev sorted out who would board first during a 27 November 2008 ship visit, and no official visits to the flagship, the PETER THE GREAT, were permitted. None of the Russians spoke Spanish and the Russian were surprised that no Venezuelan officers spoke English. The Russians displayed little knowledge of Venezuela and were skeptical of the training value of the upcoming exercise. A Russian that toured one of the LUPO frigates found it to be outdated, in poor material condition with substandard crew quarters. The Venezuelan government took great pains to advertise this exercise as a demonstration of Venezuela's naval prowess as well as its growing relationship with Moscow.

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