Surface Forces: The Venezuela Version

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November 5, 2021: In late September 2020 Venezuela announced that it had obtained some C-802A anti-ship missiles from China. Attached to the Twitter announcement is a video claiming to show a test firing of the missile from a Venezuelan warship. The video did show a warship firing a Chinese anti-ship missile but the video was of a Thailand frigate test firing a C-801 missile in 2019. The C-801 is 5.81 meters (18 feet) long, 360mm in diameter, has a max range of 42 kilometers, and weighs 636 kg (1,400 pounds) each. It entered service in 1987 after more than a decade of development. The C-801 is similar to the French Exocet and is believed to have been based on that missile. The C-801 is still exported and costs about 20 percent less then then million-dollar C-802. Most export customers for the C-801 (Iran, Yemen, Burma, but not Thailand) later bought the C-802 as well.

The C802A is a 6.8-meter (21 foot) long, 360mm, 682 kg (1,500 pound) missile with a 165 kg (360 pound) warhead. This missile entered service in 1998. The C802 has a max range of 120 kilometers and moves along at about 250 meters a second. C802A is the export version of the Chinese Y-83. Export versions of Chinese weapons lack more advanced features. With the C802 that means less capable terminal homing radar and countermeasures for enemy anti-missile electronics.

Iran produces its own version of the C802, which has been used in combat with mixed results. For example, two Iranian C-802 anti-ship missiles were fired at an Israeli warship off Lebanon in July 2006. Iran claimed that Israeli ship was destroyed. It wasn’t. In theory the 1,100-ton Israeli corvette could have been destroyed by the 165 kg warhead of the C-802. And why weren't the Israeli anti-missile defenses turned on? The answers finally came out, and say a lot about modern warfare. First, the C-802 missile that hit the helicopter hanger on the Israeli ship suffered from a common problem with missiles. The warhead failed to go off. The fire on the Israeli ship was caused by the half a ton of missile crashing into it with some unused fuel. The other C-802 homed in on a nearby Egyptian commercial ship and sank it. The warhead on that one did detonate. The Israeli anti-missile system was not turned on because it was found to interfere with the electronics on Israeli warplanes operating in the vicinity. This is also an increasing problem in modern warfare. There are so many electronic gadgets transmitting, that there are more cases of signals, literally, getting crossed.

Venezuela is probably receiving C802s from China, which has been supplying Venezuela with a lot of less expensive military equipment. Venezuela will use these C802s on their new Guaiquerí-class patrol boats. These are 2,400-ton ocean patrol vessels acquired in 2011. One was lost in 2012 due to an accident (running aground). These ships were not designed to carry anti-ship missiles but are large enough to have several C802 launchers installed. Existing armament includes a 76mm cannon and a 35mm multi-barrel autocannon used for air defense. There are also two 12.7mm machine-guns and a hanger for a helicopter.

The C-802 was based more on the American Harpoon missile, which entered service in 1977. This is a 691 kg missile with a surface-to-surface range of 170 kilometers. Harpoon is the most widely used anti-ship missile with over 7,500 built so far. The Exocet is a 780 kg missile that entered service in 1973 and is still in production. The Exocet is faster than Harpoon and has been used more in combat, mainly during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. France would sell the Exocet to just about anyone while the U.S. supplied Harpoon only to allies.

Venezuela does have some Italian Otomat Mk2 anti-ship missiles. These came with six 2,400-ton Lupo class frigates Venezuela acquired from Italy in the early 1980s. Only two of these frigates are still in service. The Otomat Mk1 missile entered service in 1977. The current version of this 770 kg missile has a range of 360 kilometers. One shortcoming of the Otomat is that it requires a datalink and mid-course guidance correction. That is a problem when used against well-equipped navies with air support and electronic jamming capability.

 


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