San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Venezuela Tests Its First Cruise Missile

LA ORCHILA – The Venezuelan armed forces on June 6 carried out their first test launch of an air-to-surface missile from one of Venezuela’s Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 fighter-bombers, the nation’s defense minister said.

Gen. Gustavo Rangel Briceño said the exercise at Antonio Díaz Naval Base on the Caribbean island of La Orchila “manifested, and very clearly, all the operational and defensive capability” of the Venezuelan military.

The test, which was broadcast on state television, featured the launch of a Russianmade Kh-59 tactical missile equipped with a television guidance system.

Fired from a Su-30, the missile struck a derelict naval vessel being used as a target.

At the same time, another target vessel was destroyed by an Otomac missile fired from a coastal patrol ship in the first such exercise by the Venezuelan navy in 13 years, Adm. Zaihn Quintana told reporters.

The missile tests came just weeks after a U.S. military plane was detected over La Orchila by Venezuelan air traffic controllers.

Venezuela’s leftist government denounced the May 17 incident as a violation of its airspace, though Washington said the intrusion was due to a navigation error.

President Hugo Chávez announced plans for the missile test during a political rally last week, joking that he would launch the missile himself.

Caracas has spent roughly $2 billion to acquire 24 Su-30s and 50 helicopter gunships from Russia, while Chávez has spoken of his desire to buy air-defense systems and even submarines.

Accused by Washington and its allies of spurring a regional arms race, the president insists that he is simply modernizing Venezuela’s armed forces, which until two years ago had rifles bought in the 1950s and F-16 warplanes for which the United States is no longer willing to provide spare parts and maintenance.

The Sukhois Caracas bought from Russia as replacements for the F-16s are about two steps down from the U.S.-made aircraft in terms of combat capabilities.


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