- Angel Bermudez (@angelbermudez)
- BBC News World
They say the FARC protesters knew hell that night.
At 3 a.m. on February 8, dissident guerrillas from the 10th and 28th Divisions in Abure State, bordering Colombia, were bombed from the air by the Venezuelan Armed Forces.
A few days later the newspaper El Colombiano reported, citing Colombian armed forces intelligence sources, that the attack was carried out using armed drones.
“This will be an innovation because, if confirmed, Venezuela will become the second country, after the United States, to use real weapons from drones,” said Andre Serbin Pont, director of the Regional Coordinator for Economic and Social Research (CRIES), a network of research centers in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Venezuelan officials never confirmed the use of armed drones, but months later, During the military parade, Nicolás Maduro’s government displayed attack-capable Venezuelan drones..
Thus, Venezuela – according to experts – is the first country in Latin America to have armed drones.
To see how he achieved it, one must turn our attention to his relations with Iran.
Armed and unmanned
On July 5, during a military parade celebrating Independence Day, the Venezuelan Armed Forces displayed two different types of drones with attack capabilities.
The Antonio José de Sucre 100 (ANSU 100) was presented as a “surveillance, reconnaissance and attack aircraft with anti-tank and anti-personnel capabilities”, while the Antonio José de Sucre 200 (ANSU 200) was described as “superior”. -wing” aircraft. Flight, speed, high stealth and surveillance capabilities, reconnaissance, attack, anti-drone hunting, enemy air defense suppression”.
According to the parade’s description, both devices are “Venezuelan design and manufacture.”
However, various experts have at least hinted at it ANSU 100 in fact, It is a modernized version of the Iranian Mohajer 2 drone.
These drones were originally purchased by Venezuela from Iran during the government of Hugo Chávez.
According to information in the ODIN military equipment database, owned by the US military, Venezuela signed a contract with Iran in 2007 to assemble 12 units of the Mohajer 2 from parts and pieces provided by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force. Guard.
Cavim, the Venezuelan state agency responsible for producing weapons and ammunition, began collecting the devices in 2009.
“U.S. satellite imagery revealed a drone manufacturing facility in 2010, and in 2012 the drones became known to the public as Cavim Arbia,” ODIN says.
In June 2012, during a television broadcast, Chávez showed off these unmanned devices for the first time. At the time, it was said that they would be used in espionage work and that the Venezuelan personnel working on the project were trained in Iran.
It was pointed out that the model assembled by Cavim had high-resolution video and photo cameras, and although in principle it could only be used for day flights, work was underway to adapt it for night flights.
The ANSU 100s displayed during the July 5 parade are seen as a modernized version of the Mohajer 2.
In recent years, relations between Iran and Venezuela have strengthened, particularly as both countries are sanctioned by the United States, which considers both the Caracas and Tehran governments authoritarian.
“In theory, it should be a modernization based on the Mojahar 6 [el modelo más avanzado de este tipo de dron]. “If you look at earlier photos of Mohajer 2, you’ll see that there were skis instead of landing gear because they launch from a platform,” Serbin Pont told BBC Mundo.
“Part of the latest modernization is putting wheeled landing gear on it, with the idea that it can operate directly from normal airstrips,” he adds.
He says that these devices They are displayed together with Iranian-made Qaem guided weapons that allow them to strike targets from the air with considerable accuracy..
However, he cautions that there are still many unknowns about the performance of these improved drones.
“We have no evidence of the operating conditions of this new modernized model and if it was used with this weapon. There is evidence that indicates that it exists,” Serbin points out.
It should be noted that during the parade on 5th July, both ANSU 100 and ANSU 200 were displayed while being transported by ground vehicles.
In the case of the ANSU 200, this detail is very important, because it is a new device, before the parade, only images of its design and scale models were known, but its functionality was not shown.
In November 2020, during a telecast on the design and construction of the two aircraft, he said, Maduro announced that Venezuela would also produce multi-purpose drones for “national security”..
He specifically mentioned a drone at the site and said the devices will be made with Venezuelan aluminum and will even be manufactured for export. Although he did not recognize it, the device in question was a scale model of the Mohajer 6.
An ambitious and opaque plan
The development of drones in Venezuela is marked by two characteristics: support from Iran and secrecy.
“Venezuela’s drone program comes from Iran. Venezuela didn’t have a drone program before it cooperated with Iran,” said Joseph Humair, executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society, a Washington, DC-based think tank.
When the initiative was launched between 2006 and 2007, it was signed military cooperation agreements hidden under trade agreements and linked to energy deals in which both countries’ state oil companies participated.
Initially, this cooperation progressed slowly and it took several years for the first Iranian drones to be produced in Venezuela in 2011.
These devices were assembled and/or manufactured at KVM’s facilities at the Libertador Air Base in the city of Maracay in central Venezuela.
Humair believes that despite the setbacks, it was a serious endeavor that could even have dual use (civilian/military).
This indicates that the program was suspended between 2013 and 2016.
After that, the two countries decided to strengthen their defense cooperation, but then they had to deal with restrictions imposed by the UN sanctions, which prevented Iran from exporting weapons systems.
Humira mentions that Soon after Venezuela formed its first drone battalion, This includes not only Iranian aircraft, but also other surveillance and surveillance UAVs from China and Russia.
“So, for the first time, Venezuela has successfully presented a real drone project, initially it was like a pilot project. As of 2019 they had a project managed by a specific battalion, and that’s when we started to see these. The devices are used in different operations”, says the expert.
According to Humair, Venezuelan authorities were able to trace the call because of the use of Iranian drones. Operation GideonA May 2020 landing attempt by a group of Venezuelan exiles, along with two former US soldiers, aimed at capturing Maduro failed.
“So we’re seeing the use of drones, especially in surveillance missions, but it’s much more than what they’ve done in the past. It’s like test flights and small reconnaissance missions, but drones aren’t used for border patrol,” he said.
The modernization of Venezuela’s Mohajer 2 is being carried out by aerospace services company Einsa – a subsidiary of state airline Canviasa – which is also based at the Libertador Air Base in Marrakesh.
It is not clear how far along Venezuela’s armed drone program is, as they have not been seen in operation, and it is not known how many of them there are, or whether they are older refurbished Mohajer 2s or whether they have been purchased or manufactured. New gadgets.
BBC Mundo contacted Venezuela’s Ministry of Communications to request information about the drone program in that country, but at the time of going to press, no response had been received.
What the experts agree is Venezuela is the first country in the region to have these attack-capable UAVs.
In an article on the use of drones in the fight against drugs in Latin America, researchers Jochen Kleinschmidt and Luca Trenta point out that “although there are some voices calling for drones to be turned into weapons, they remain unarmed.”
But that was the case last January when Swansea University (UK) published the text.
Kleinschmidt, who is a researcher in international relations at the Center for Latin American Studies at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt (Germany), pointed out. Brazil is looking for ways to integrate modern anti-tank missiles into its UAVs (UAV, as drones are known in English by their acronym), as well as arming themselves with suicide drones.
“As this is all in its early stages, it would be correct as far as I know to say that the only armed drones in Latin America are the Venezuelan Mohajers and their descendants and the armed civilian drones used by some Mexican criminal organizations,” he pointed out when asked by BBC Mundo.
Joseph Humair, for his part, believes that Venezuela has intentions that go beyond equipping itself with these devices that have offensive capabilities.
“It’s more than just drones. Venezuela wants to produce drones domestically, but also wants to export them,” he says.
“In Venezuela they are building a domestic capacity to deploy drones as part of a broader military strategy.“The Iranians are very good at using drones: asymmetric amphibious capabilities, basically combining drones with fast attack boats and satellite systems that allow you to monitor the water,” he says.
“Iran continues to do that in the Strait of Hormuz and in the Persian Gulf. Venezuela doesn’t have that capability today, but they aim to have it in the future,” he concludes.
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