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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.