Forces: Venezuela

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February23, 2007: The Venezuelan armed forces are undergoing a transformation, brought about by massive arms purchases (mainly over $6 billion worth of Russian weapons.) The full time military, of some 90,000 troops, is also being augmented by several hundred thousand poorly organized "reserves." Many of the new weapons are Russian assault rifles to arm these guys, who may end up supporting post-Chavez warlords.

Of course, this spending spree looks impressive. It remains, however, to be seen as to whether the Venezuelan armed forces can absorb the mountains of equipment, and use it effectively. The army has already been disrupted by three changes of its main infantry weapon in the past six years. On top of that, president Hugo Chavez' yes men have managed to foist a new tactical system on the army. The so-called "Bolivarian tactics" were apparently made up out of bits and pieces of various dated guerrilla theories (Che Guevara in particular), and have never been wargamed or tested in combat.

Then there's the Navy. While it's also being run by some yes men (in fact Chavez promoted one of his buddies to full admiral -- the first sailor of that rank since the war for independence, some 180 years ago -- and made him chairman of the joint chiefs). A substantial portion of the Navy consists of several riverine flotillas, which patrol the country's extensive inland waters, and which would be of marginal utility for coastal operations, though perhaps of help against neighboring Guyana (Venezuela claims 60 percent of Guyana). The surface fleet is relatively small, and there have been reports of shortages of equipment and parts. Like all dictators, Chavez seems to think more equipment is a better investment than spare parts. Then there are the nine Russian submarines Chavez is intent on buying. Frankly, these would seem to be a highly dubious investment. The country does have two older German boats, and thus a small cadre of submariners. But how long would it take to expand that cadre sufficiently to man a total of eleven boats?

The Venezuelan Marine Corps (actually naval infantry), is small, but likely to be of value, as they used to train with the USMC; apparently the marines are very loyal to the regime; the new chairman of the joint chiefs was formerly the head of the marines.

The air force will have less trouble with the new Russian Su-30 fighters. Venezuela has been using American F-16s for decades, and the new Russian aircraft are of the same class in terms of complexity. So Venezuela will have no insurmountable problems in developing pilots and maintenance personnel for the Su-30s.

Naturally, maniacal dictators don't usually worry about such details. The new weapons will work out, or not, depending on how motivated the troops and officers are, and how much leeway they are given to improvise. If Chavez insists on micromanaging, which he has been guilty of in the past, this huge investment in new weapons may well backfire.

 


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