Venezuela was the first location on mainland South America discovered by Christopher Colombus on august 1st 1498. It gained its present name a year later when Italian Amerigo Vespucci explored the Maracaibo area and dubbed the country 'little Venice' (Venezuela) because of the building style of the local inhabitants reminded him of Venice.
Due to the apparent lack of natural resources, its colonial rulers mainly exploited Venezuela for slavery and Venezuela played a peripheral role until the late eighteenth century. However, Venezuela was the first Latin American country to gain independence from colonial Spanish rule in 1810. After two attempts to form a republic, the third republic, led by Simón Bolívar, was the first true Venezuelan republic recognised in the whole territory. Venezuela born Simón Bolívar was to play a major role in liberating the other Northern Latino countries as well. Pursuing his dream of creating a united Latin America, he went on to expel the Spanish rulers from Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. The period of Greater Colombia, formed in 1820-ies did not last for long because the Venezuelan people wanted full independence, and not be ruled from Bogotá. General Páez achieved Independence form Gran Colombia in late 1829. Disillusioned Bolívar was expelled and died in December 1830.
Many names from this important era in the history of Northern Latin America can still be found in the structure of the armed forces today. The main bases being named after the liberator "El Libertador" Simón Bolívar himself (Palo Negro air base) or his top rank military (General Francisco de Miranda, Marshal Sucre).
Venezuela is a large country measuring 912,050 square km, and has about 23,5 million inhabitants. Geographical variations are numerous, dense jungle, mountain ranges, palm beaches, and the highest waterfall in the world can all be found in Venezuela. It is a relatively rich country because of the oil resources, off course dependent on the price of crude oil.
The birth of the AMV can be traced back to December 10, 1920. On that date the Escuela de Aviación Militar Venezolana was formed. Early aircraft included Farman and Caudron G-3 as well as the amphibian Caudron G-4. The first decades of the AMBV saw mainly French, German and Italian influence. After the Second World War, the Airforce was reorganised with American aid, eventually leading to the formal inception of the Aviacion Militar BolivarianaVenezolana, as we know it today, on June 22, 1946. Most current airbases were built in the 1960s; main fighter types in those years were Venom, Vampire, and F-86. Bombardment squadrons typically operated B-25 Mitchell aircraft. The 70s and 80s saw a considerable boost in capacity, mainly because the rising oil prices enabled the AMBV to re-equip most of its units. The mixture of various aircraft types was maintained and Mirage IIIE and V, VF-5A and D, T-2D, OV-10A and E, T-27 were introduced. Venezuela was one of the first export customers for the F-16 which arrived in 1983 to equip the newly formed Grupo Aéreo de Caza 16 at El Libertador airbase. Meanwhile the transport and helicopter fleets were receiving a myriad of types as well.
The AMBV today
With the dropping of oil prices and the enormous variation in aircraft types, the AMBV faced a challenge to maintain a high operational level. Isolated types keep on being introduced like the sole C-47, Shorts 360, Shorts 360 and the returning to service of a G222. This further usurps resources necessary to upgrade the main aircraft types. However, the need for transport capacity to maintain forward operating locations in the Amazon region near the Colombian border and to support the deployments of fighter units around the country, is even more urgent.
The main base is El Libertador where Grupo 16 with their F-16 Halcón, can be found. The Mirages, upgraded to Mirage 50 standard, of Grupo 11 have been replaced by the vastly more potent Su-30 that also equips Grupo 13. The maintenance unit SERMAAV is currently involved in a Bronco upgrade programme, the introduction of the F-260EU and Shorts 330 into the AMBV and the depot level maintenance of the many types operated by the airforce. Engine overhaul and accident investigation is also carried out at this centre and a large quantity of stored aircraft can always be found on the ramp.
Other main bases are Base Aérea "Generalísimo Francisco de Miranda" at La Carlota, Caracas; Base Aérea "Teniente Vicente Landaeta Gil" at Barquisemeto; Base Aérea "General en Jefe Urdaneta" at Maracaibo and Base Escuela "Mariscal Sucre" at Maracay, Boca de Río. The presidential transport unit, Grupo 4, is based at La Carlota literally in Caracas, along Grupo 5, which operates a mixture of light and medium transports in various roles. Whereas Barquisemeto holds the VF-5 unit Grupo 12, these aircraft were upgraded by ST Aero of Singapore to Grifo standard. The single seat aircraft are also wired to use camera noses. Maracaibo plays host to the Broncos of Grupo 15 tasked with counter insurgency, mainly anti drug operations. The centre of all military education is at Maracay. The air force academy is situated here, opposite the actual airbase (...) Mariscal Sucre airbase itself has F260EUs and T-27 Tucanos assigned. Regular deployments can be found at Puerto Ordaz, Porlamar and Manuel Rios.
The influx of aircraft in this century have been quite spectacular. Apart from the aforementioned Su-30s, Venezuela has also acquired a sizeable fleet of Russian helicopters and although most have gone to the army, the air force acquired six Mi-17V5 and two Mi-172 as well. Although the T-2 Buckeye was not replaced at first, 2010 saw the arrival of eighteen K-8W jet trainers marking the new found defence relation with China that will also involve Y-8 transports. The Russians are due to supply Il-76-300 and Mi-28Nh as well further enhancing the already quite capable air force.
Forming a Naval Aviation branch started gradually during the 1960's. Some aircraft were taken on strength and resorted directly under the Naval headquerters. The first of them arrived in 1962, a Ce310 serialled ARV-11. In 1963 the Negociado de Aviación Naval and the Departamento de Aviación Naval were formed within the third headquarters section. These units controlled the aeronautics training and aerial naval assets. The expanding navy needed more air support and by the mid-sixties, two Dakotas (ARV-12 and ARV-14) were incorporated.
It took until the end of 1970 to start forming a true independent naval air arm the headquarters units were amalgamated into the Sección de Aviación Naval which transformed into the Comando de la Aviación Naval by 1971. At that time the fleet consisted of five aircraft, the Cessna and two Dakotas mentioned before, along with another two Ce310 aircraft (one of them was registered YV-TTO).
This was soon to be augmented by Grumman Trackers, the first ones arrived in november 1974 and the Escuadrón Aeronaval Antisubmarino AS-10 was formed. In 1978 the first helicopters were taken on strenght and this led to the birth of the Escuadrón Aeronaval de Helicópteros on the 11th of June 1980. The eighties saw the arrival of more aircraft, CASA 212s in various configurations for example, able to carry out a wider range of roles. In those days, the aircraft carried task-specific prefixes to their serials, corresponding with the unit's denominations. On July 1st, 1985 the body of the current organisational structure was implemented only to be expanded by creating the Escuadrón de Adiestramiento on November 2nd, 1988 completing the order of battle as we know it today.
The Comando de la Aviación Naval (CAN) is one of the five commands resorting under the Comando Naval de Operaciones (CNAOP). The naval air command is generally referred to as Aviación Naval de Venezuela, and the prefix ARBV is commonly used. Newest acquisitions are six Mi-17V5 used for assault duties.
Army aviation formally started on the 11th of April 1978 with the inception of the Departemento Aéreo. This was transformed into the Regimiento Aereo del Ejército with Grupos operating the aircraft in July 1982. Gradually growing in terms of manpower and material, the regiment became a full command in July 1993. This Comando Aereo controls two battalions, one for fixed wing aircraft and the other for helicopters, the army aviation school and the maintenance centre.
The force stepped up to another level in this century with a large contingent of Russian helicopters being taken up. This deal saw three Mi-26, ten Mi-35M2 and 20 Mi-17V5 helicopters being delivered greatly boosting its capabilities. Moreover, some training aircraft we acquired, four Bell 206 and four Ce182T along with a single Beech 200. Nowadays, nearly 80 aircraft are operated and the army aviation has become a well established force.
The Guardia Nacional is a military police force formed in 1811 and formalised by law in 1937. It has a strong nation wide representation in nine regions. An aerial unit, called Destacamento de Apoyo Aereo, is also located in most of these regions. These assets are controlled by the Comando de Apoyo Aereo, which itself is one of the commands under the Comando de Operaciones of the Comando General. A typical aerial detachment consists of a couple of helicopters and the odd fixed wing plane. The unit at Caracas-La Carlota has a larger complement of aircraft, most of the M28 Skytrucks are based there, and they supply the regions every day. Maintenance is carried out at Charallave near Caracas. Training takes place at Isla Marguerita's Porlamar airfield with some light aircraft and helicopters. Most recent training aircraft are Enstrom F280FX and Ce172. Of course, the Guards got their share of the Russian helicopters as well with six Mi-17V5 being taken up.