Just in case you thought things were too boring in Venezuela lately with all of the riots, murders and starving people protesting in the streets, a new report from Reuters promises to make things even more “interesting.” It turns out that the government of Nicolas Maduro is sitting on a cache of thousands of Russian-built, shoulder fired surface to air missiles. I can’t imagine how this could possibly end badly.
Venezuela possesses 5,000 Russian-made MANPADS surface-to-air weapons, according to a military document reviewed by Reuters, the largest known stockpile in Latin America and a source of concern for U.S. officials amid the country’s mounting turmoil.
Venezuela’s socialist government has long used the threat of an “imperialist” invasion by the United States to justify an arms buildup. Much of that arsenal was obtained from Russia by Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez, whose tenure lasted from 1999 until his death in 2013…
According to a Venezuelan military presentation seen by Reuters, the South American country has 5,000 SA-24 Man-Portable Air-Defense System (MANPADS) missiles, also known as the Igla-S.
The Igla-S is basically the Russian equivalent of the American Stinger produced by Raytheon. They all fall into the general class of MANPADS… one of the most awkward acronyms in the military weaponry arena, standing for Man Portable Air Defense Systems. (“Man portable” was the best you could come up with? I’m sure someone will be along shortly to label that sexist.)
At first glance we might think that this isn’t all that big of a deal. After all, it’s unlikely that Maduro’s militias would waste the technology trying to fire a SAM at a crowd of protesters and the people rioting in the streets don’t have planes or helicopters. (They don’t even have food in most cases.) And even if the protesters got hold of some of them we haven’t seen many reports of aircraft being used against the protesters.
But that’s not the major concern here. The country is in turmoil, the government is extremely unstable and they are pretty much bankrupt. As we saw in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that’s a bad combination. It opens the door to corrupt individuals looking to cash in on the chaos potentially selling these weapons to terrorist groups. And in the hands of actual terrorist, Stinger style missiles are just about the gold standard in terms of desirable weapons, probably even more so than a nuke. They can be smuggled into nearly any area in a normal car, set up for deployment in seconds and allow a single individual near an air field to potentially take down a jet liner before disappearing into the night. Raytheon lists the per-unit cost of the Stinger at around $40K but I’d be willing to bet that certain terror groups would pay a whole lot more.
Of course, this isn’t a new development. They’ve been sitting on these since Chavez was in office without anything going too disastrously wrong. But now the conditions on the ground have changed and a great deal of uncertainty surrounds what’s going on in Caracas. I certainly hope we’ve got some eyeballs in place down there keeping tabs on what happens to these missiles or they may show up elsewhere in an alarming fashion.