Skip to content

This Chinese Armored Car Is Propping Up The Maduro Regime

May 4, 2019

The VN4 in Caracas. Via news footage.

In the early morning of May 1 the internationally recognized Venezuelan leader, President Juan Guaido, shared a video clip on social media encouraging the country’s armed forces along with the citizenry to revolt and overthrow his rival President Nicolas Maduro. Accompanying Guaido in the La Carlota airbase were armed military defectors and opposition figures. By noon his supporters battled armored cars of the national guard, known for their acronyms “GNB,” as these tried breaching La Carlota’s perimeter. Guaido’s latest attempt at replacing the Maduro regime fizzled, however, proving the effectiveness of the domestic security apparatus at crushing dissent.

A critical advantage for the Venezuela’s GNB are its anti-riot equipment supplied by China. Viral footage of their white armored cars plowing through civilians outside La Carlota has cemented their primary street fighting vehicle’s reputation. Although Venezuela does have a small state-owned military-industrial sector, the GNB clash with opposition protesters using the Norinco VN4. Meant as a protected military scout vehicle with a secondary role for police use, the VN4’s growing popularity in the developing world has done little to reveal its true characteristics.

The VN4 belongs to Norinco’s catalog of armored cars meant for export. Although some might compare it to the ubiquitous US Humvee, a faithful clone of which is mass-produced in China by Dongfeng and sold abroad, the VN4’s appearance and characteristics resemble the French VBL or PVP–both are small wheeled transports offering a modicum of protection. But the VN4 is far from a bestseller and two of the biggest customers for Chinese weapons in Asia, Myanmar and Pakistan, have shunned it.

While it’s possible for the Norinco VN4 to be armed with either a heavy machine gun or a grenade launcher on its roof hatch, the ones deployed by Venezuela’s GNB are anti-riot variants carrying specific countermeasures. These include wire screens over the windshield panels as protection against thrown projectiles and small tear gas launchers on the roof that shoot out canisters at extended ranges. Other anti-riot vehicles sold by China to Venezuela are trucks equipped with water cannon and mobile command centers.

The exact specifications of the VN4 are difficult to verify. Vehicles of its type often gross less than 10 tons and are powered by small diesel engines. What isn’t apparent is whether the hull of the VN4 is shaped to deflect explosions from hand grenades and mines. Overall armor protection is at least at STANAG I, making it resistant against most NATO 5.56mm assault rifles. Yet so far the anti-Maduro opposition have never fought the GNB with anything deadlier than petrol bombs.

A swing door at the back of the VN4 allows up to six passengers inside. If these are national guardsmen they can discharge their weapons from two small roof hatches or four gun ports located below the VN4’s reinforced windows. The GNB’s prized VN4’s may not be that plentiful since Venezuela’s annual spending on arms and security equipment is meager. An estimate by the US government’s own research on Latin American arms sales claims 121 VN4’s were paid for by Caracas. Exports of the VN4 elsewhere are limited, with a small batch sold to Kenya this decade. Sudan’s state-owned Military Industrial Corporation (MIC) unveiled a scout vehicle based on the VN4 in 2018.

When the late President Hugo Chavez began to wean Venezuela’s military away from its French and US kit a decade ago, conventional weapons from Russia were delivered over several years; these spanned T-72B battle tanks, BMP-3 troop carriers, Mi-35 helicopter gunships, Su-30MK multirole fighters, and various air defense systems. While it’s true Caracas is burdened by outstanding debts to Beijing, Chinese-made weapons represent a small segment of the Bolivarian arsenal. The air force, for example, are known to maintain a single squadron of K-8 trainer jets while the 15,000-strong marines possess VN1 wheeled APCs and the formidable VN18 amphibious IFV is far deadlier than the the US Marine Corps’ own AAV-7 transports.

Comments are closed.