Following the rise into power of Hugo Chaves, and the U.S. imposing embargo on arms sales to the country, Venezuela reached east to China and Russia for its arms modernization plans. Despite the move’s high profile, President Chaves has not been hasty in committing his economy to excessive spending, releasing firm orders only with vendors granting generous credit lines to finance the deals.

Venezuela received 26 Su-30 air dominance fighters from Russia, as part of the first arms deal signed between the two countries in 2006. In 2011 Venezuela is expected to reach an agreement on a second arms package worth more than US$2 billion. Photo by Enver Cuervos,
The delivery of Igla-S man portable air defense missiles (MANPADS) to Venezuela raised concern in the U.S. that these missiles will fall into the hands of terrorists or druglords improving their capability to hit civil aircraft and counter-terror forces of neuighboring governments. Photo: Enver Cuervos,

Revamping the country’s air defense was the first step in the modernization of Venezuela’s military. In 2006 China supplied Caracas three JYL-1 long range air surveillance radars. Venezuela’s first large acquisition of Russian arms was also marked in 2006, with Caracas ordering 24 Russian Sukhoi Su-30 air dominance fighters, with comprehensive weapons assortment including 200 KAB-500 and KAB-1500 laser guided bombs, 50 Kh-29 air-to-surface missiles, 50 Kh-31A1 anti-ship missiles, 50 Kh-59ME electro-optically guided missiles and two types of air/air missiles – 100 Vympel R-27 medium range AAM and 150 Vympek R-73 short range missiles. To fuel these deals Russia has granted Venezuela credit worth one billion US$.

Along with this massive package, Venezuela received 40 Mi-17 and 3 Mi-26 transport helicopters along with eight Mi-35 gunships. 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and Igla-S Man-Portable Air Defense missiles (MANPADS) were also delivered. Since 2008 Venezuela also received 24 Chinese K-8 Karakorum jet trainers from China to be used as advanced trainers.

Following a visit to Caracas in 2010, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that Venezuelan orders for Russian arms could top US$5 billion. To encourage these orders, Russia has issued credit lines up US$2.2bn of the total amount, enabling deliveries to be expedited through 2010-2011. Part of the package included 92 T-72 tanks and S-300 advanced anti-aircraft missile systems. Despite the U.S. imposed embargo, Venezuela is negotiating a deal with Spain’s Navantia for the modernization of the country’s shipyards.

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