CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez has revealed that Venezuela has made its first drone in partnership with Iran, Russia and China, and said Caracas plans to start exporting it soon.
“It is one of the three planes that we have manufactured here, and we are continuing to make them ... not just for military use, [as] much of its equipment is for civilian use,” Chavez said during a meeting with top military and defense officials.
The drones were developed in cooperation with “Russia, China, Iran and other allied countries,” he said in remarks broadcast on radio and television.
Designed as a surveillance tool, the machine “does not carry arms” and has a 60 mile (100-kilometer) sweep. It can fly solo for some 90 minutes and reach an altitude of 9,000 feet (3,000 meters), according to Venezuelan Gen. Julio Morales, president of the state-run Venezuelan Military Industrial Company (CAVIM).
Chavez is a left-wing firebrand who often criticizes the United States, which has closely monitored for any signs of Iranian influence in Venezuela.
The United States, which has controversially waged drone strikes remotely against suspected militants in Pakistan and Yemen, expressed caution about Chavez’s announcement.
“The Venezuelans make lots of extravagant claims. So do the Iranians,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington. “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.”
Another official in Venezuela said that the drone was assembled from parts made locally and built by engineers trained in Iran.
Measuring four meters (13 feet) long by three meters (10 feet) wide, the drone can transmit real time photographs and video, officials said. It is currently being modified so it can also carry out night flights.
CAVIM is also developing guns such as the AK103 in partnership with Russia, grenades and munitions, as well as more pilotless planes.
“Of course we are developing a powder factory ... a drone factory, of course we are doing it. We have the right, we wouldn’t have it if we were a colony, but we are a free and independent nation,” Chavez said.
A one-time lieutenant colonel in the Venezuelan Army, Chavez has been developing cooperation with several countries to boost the force.