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How Venezuela became with the help of Iran the “only Latin American country that has armed drones”

They say that that night the FARC dissidents knew hell.

At 3 in the morning on February 8, guerrillas from the dissidents of the 10th and 28th fronts who were in the state of Apure, adjacent to the border with Colombia, were bombarded from the air by surprise by the Armed Forces of Venezuela.

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As published a few days later by the newspaper El Colombiano, citing intelligence sources from the Colombian Armed Forces, the attack was carried out using armed drones.

“This would be a novelty because, if confirmed, it would make Venezuela the second country in the hemisphere, after the United States, to use real weapons from drones,” Andrei Serbin Pont, director of the Regional Coordinator for Economic and Social Research (CRIES), a network of research centers in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Venezuelan authorities never confirmed the use of armed drones, but a few months later, During a military parade, the government of Nicolás Maduro exhibited Venezuelan drones with attack capabilities.

Thus, Venezuela became -according to specialists- the first country in Latin America to have armed drones.

To find out how he achieved it, one must turn our attention to his relations with Iran.

Armed and unmanned

On July 5, during the military parade to celebrate Independence Day, the Venezuelan Armed Forces showed two different models of drones with offensive capabilities.

The Antonio José de Sucre 100 (ANSU 100) was presented as an “observation, reconnaissance and attack aircraft, with anti-tank and anti-personnel capabilities”, while the Antonio José de Sucre 200 (ANSU 200) was described as a “high-wing” aircraft. flying, speed, high stealth and observation capacity, reconnaissance, attack, anti-drone hunting, enemy air defense suppression”.

According to the narrator of the parade, both devices are “of Venezuelan design and manufacture.”

However, various experts have pointed out that at least the ANSU 100 is actually a modernized version of the Iranian Mohajer 2 drone.

These unmanned devices were the first purchased by Venezuela from Iran during the government of Hugo Chávez.

According to the information available in the ODIN military equipment database, belonging to the United States Army, Venezuela signed an agreement with Iran in 2007 to assemble 12 units of the Mohajer 2, from parts and pieces supplied by the Quds Force. of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The devices began to be assembled in 2009 by Cavim, the Venezuelan state company in charge of producing weapons and ammunition.

“US satellite imagery revealed the facility where the drones are manufactured in 2010 and the drones became known to the public as Cavim Arpia in 2012,” ODIN says.

The Iranian Mohajer 2 is the original model of the Venezuelan drones. (TASNIM NEWS / HOSSEIN ZOHREVAND (CC BY 4.0).

In June 2012, during a televised broadcast, Chávez showed these unmanned devices for the first time. Then, it was said that they would be used in reconnaissance missions and that the Venezuelan personnel working on that project had been trained in Iran.

It was also pointed out that the model assembled by Cavim had high-resolution video and photography cameras and that, although in principle it could only be used on day flights, work was underway to adapt it to night flights.

The ANSU 100s displayed during the July 5 parade are seen as a modernized version of the Mohajer 2.

In recent years, the relationship between Iran and Venezuela has only strengthened, especially since both countries are sanctioned by the United States, which considers both the Caracas and Tehran governments authoritarian.

“In theory, it’s supposed to be a modernization based on the Mojaher 6 [el modelo más avanzado de este tipo de dron]. If you look at the previous photos of the Mohajer 2, you will see that instead of landing gear they had skis, because they are launched from a platform,” Serbin Pont told BBC Mundo.

“As part of the recent modernization, what it does is put a wheeled landing gear on it, with the idea that they can operate directly from normal airstrips,” he adds.

He claims that these devices They have been exhibited together with a type of Qaem guided munition, also made in Iran, which allows to attack targets from the air with considerable precision..

He warns, however, that there are still many unknowns about the operation of these updated drones.

“We have no evidence on the operating conditions of this new modernized model and if it has been used with this weapon. There are sources that indicate that it has,” Serbin points out.

It should be noted that during the parade on July 5, both the ANSU 100 and the ANSU 200 were displayed while being transported by ground vehicles.

This detail is especially important in the case of the ANSU 200, since it is a new device of which before the parade only images of its design and scale models were known, but whose operation has not been shown.

In November 2020, during a television broadcast in which he reported on the design and construction of two aircraft, Maduro announced that Venezuela was also going to manufacture multipurpose drones and “for national defense”.

He specifically referred to a drone that was in the place and said that these devices would be built with Venezuelan aluminum and that they would even be manufactured for export. Although he did not identify it, the aircraft in question looked like a scale model of the Mohajer 6.

An ambitious and opaque project

The development of drones in Venezuela has been marked by two characteristics: the support of Iran and secrecy.

“Venezuela’s drone program comes from Iran. Venezuela did not have a drone program prior to its cooperation with Iran,” says Joseph Humire, executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society, a Washington, DC-based think tank.

It indicates that when this initiative was launched between 2006 and 2007, it was done with the signing of military cooperation agreements that were hidden under trade agreements and also linked to energy agreements in which the state oil companies of both countries participated.

At the beginning, this cooperation progressed slowly and it took years for the first Iranian drones manufactured in Venezuela to be ready, around 2011.

The devices were assembled and/or manufactured at Cavim’s facilities at the Libertador air base, in the city of Maracay, in central Venezuela.

Image taken from a video posted by Cavim in 2017, showing how Harpy drones operated.  (CAVIM / YOUTUBE).

Image taken from a video posted by Cavim in 2017, showing how Harpy drones operated. (CAVIM / YOUTUBE).

Despite the setbacks, Humire believes that it was a serious initiative that could even have dual use (civilian/military).

It indicates that the program was paused between 2013 and 2016.

Thereafter, both countries decided to strengthen their defense cooperation, but then they had to deal with the restrictions imposed by UN sanctions, which prevented Iran from exporting weapons systems.

Humire points out that soon after Venezuela created its first drone battalion, which included not only Iranian aircraft, but also other surveillance and surveillance UAVs from China and Russia.

“So, Venezuela successfully endowed itself with a real drone program for the first time, since initially it was like a pilot program. As of 2019 they had a program that was managed by a specific battalion and that is also when we began to see these devices being used in different operations”, says the expert.

According to Humire, it was thanks to the use of Iranian drones that the Venezuelan authorities were able to detect the call. Operation Gideonthe failed landing attempt by a group of Venezuelan exiles accompanied by two former US veterans in May 2020, with the alleged objective of capturing Maduro.

“So we have been seeing the use of drones especially in surveillance tasks, but this goes way beyond what they had done in the past. It was more like test flights and small reconnaissance missions, but the drones were not used. for border patrol,” he said.

The modernization of the Venezuelan Mohajer 2 has been carried out by the aerospace services company Eansa – a subsidiary of the state airline Conviasa – which is also based at the Libertador airbase in Maracay.

The Arpía, the first Venezuelan drones, took off from shuttles.  (CAVIM / YOUTUBE).

The Arpía, the first Venezuelan drones, took off from shuttles. (CAVIM / YOUTUBE).

It is not clear how far along Venezuela’s armed drone program is, as they have not been seen in action and it is not known how many of these there are, or if they are just old updated Mohajer 2s or if they have been purchased or manufactured. new gadgets.

BBC Mundo contacted the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication to request information about the drone program in that country, but at the time of publishing this note, no response had been received.

What experts do agree on is that Venezuela would be the first country in the region to have these UAVs with offensive capabilities.

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 “despite the fact that there are some voices calling for turning drones into weapons, they remain unarmed” in the region.

But that was the situation last January, when the text was published by Swansea University (United Kingdom).

Kleinschmidt, who is a researcher in International Relations at the Center for Latin American Studies of the Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt (Germany), indicated that Brazil is looking for ways to integrate modern anti-tank missiles into its UAVs (UAV, as drones are known by their acronym in English), as well as equip themselves with suicide drones.

“Since 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 perhaps the Venezuelan Mohajers and their derivatives, and the armed civilian drones used by some Mexican criminal organizations.” He pointed out when asked by BBC Mundo.

Joseph Humire, for his part, considers that Venezuela has objectives that go far beyond equipping itself with these devices with offensive capabilities.

“It is much more than just the drones. Venezuela not only wants to produce the drones locally, but also wants to export them,” he says.

In Venezuela they are creating an endogenous local capacity to deploy the drones as part of a broader military strategy.something the Iranians are very good at in terms of using drones: asymmetrical amphibious capabilities, basically combining drones with fast attack boats and satellite systems that allow you to monitor the waters,” he says.

“Iran does it constantly in the Strait of Hormuz and in the Persian Gulf. Venezuela does not have that capacity today, but they aim to obtain it in the future”, she concludes.

Source: Elcomercio

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