Merida, June 4th 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – After President Nicolas Maduro attended a military display in Aragua state which included Venezuela’s three unarmed drones, some mainstream media has highlighted Venezuela’s defence program, stressing Venezuela’s relationship with Iran.
Maduro presided over a ceremony to hand over and display National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) equipment last week. There was a demonstration of Venezuela’s Harpy System of Drone Planes.
The unarmed planes are operated by remote, can take photographs and be used for disaster situations, agricultural research and protection of the electrical grid, according to Defence minister Diego Molero.
Molero said that through the Simon Bolivar satellite, the drones can observe any part of Venezuela. He also presented the Gavilan project, for a drone plane which he said has been designed completely with Venezuelan technology.
Venezuela’s Harpy drones are small and can only be used for remote controlled long distance surveillance. They weigh 85kg, have a maximum flight distance of 100km and flight time of 90 minutes, a cargo capacity of 17 kg, and video cameras which can transmit in real time.
Venezuela’s Cavim (Venezuelan Military Industrial Company) manufactured the drones, with the help of Venezuelan military engineers who were trained in Iran. The system consists of three planes, a launcher, and a control unit.
Ciudad CCS reports that the government eventually hopes to have “at least a dozen” Harpies (Arpías in Spanish).
“We’re advancing in the development and management of military science and technology, for preserving peace and security in Venezuela,” Maduro said at the demonstration, adding that Venezuela is “prepared to resist any attack that could be fabricated overseas, against Venezuela”.
Minister for internal affairs at the time, Tareck el Aissami reported in September last year that Venezuela’s drones had detected a plane with a US registration number, allegedly transporting drugs, in Venezuelan territory. The first Harpy (Arpia-001) was manufactured in January 2012.
Media and U.S. response
Last week’s military demonstration led to some corporate media headlines over the following days about Venezuela “launching” its drones system. Media in and outside Venezuela has reported that the drones are for surveillance and to be used to “curb drug trafficking” but has also emphasised that Iran “helped to build them”.
Univision Noticias headlined with, “Venezuela will use drones to protect the country from any threat”. Fox News and AP reported that “Venezuela’s announcement comes as the United States has begun to use unmanned drones to hunt drug traffickers on both the U.S.’s southern border with Mexico and in the open waters of the Caribbean.”
Last year the U.S. said it would watch Venezuela’s drone development closely, with U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland saying at the time, “Our concern, obviously, would be with any breaking of international sanctions on Iran. And we will be most vigilant in watching how this goes forward”.
Further, according to an April 2013 article by the InterAmerican Security Watch (IASW), which “monitors threats to regional security” and the Jerusalem Post, “the growing military ties between Iran and Venezuela... have raised concerns in both the US[sic] and Israel”.
The IASW also made the claim that “Iran’s extended reach in Latin America could pose a threat to US national security; Tehran’s strategies in the region could also threaten Jewish and Israeli interests”.
However, while Venezuela’s 3 small drones are unarmed and have not left Venezuelan territory, the U.S. has used armed and unarmed drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia, while Israel has used them in Lebanon. According to a February 2012 report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, U.S. drones had killed at least 2413 civilians in Pakistan alone, between May 2009 and the date of the report.