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Venezuelan Defence Minister threatens U.S. Navy. Analysis of the Venezuelan Navy 1 of 5: SUBMARINES

After the U.S. Navy Destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) conducted the latest Freedom Of Navigation Operation, Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino threatened "If you dare to act in the sea that corresponds to Venezuela, you will receive a worthy response from the patriots" calling it "really funny but shameful" and warning of a military response "if you cross the red line".

This is part 1 of a 5 part series taking an in depth look at the the current capabilities of the Bolivarian Navy of Venezuela vessels.


On August 6th 1976 Venezuela recieved (S-31) Sábalo built by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) in Kiel Germany and then the following year (S-32) Caribe. Armed with 8 bow 533 mm torpedo tubes and 14 german made SST or Special Surface Target torpedoes.

The pair of Type-209/1300 Deisel-electric attack submarines have received upgrades over the years, both were slightly lengthened during a modernization at HDW in the early 1990s. The increased length is due to the addition of a new sonar dome that is similar to the model found on the German Type 206.

Both had maintenance done to replace the battery banks several times between commissioning and the early 2000s at DIANCA or Diques y Astilleros Nacionales Compañía Anónima, the state shipyard of Venezuela in the city of Puerto Cabello, Carabobo state. The (S-32) Caribe was scheduled to have them replaced again in 2014 but there has not been any indication of it being back in the water since.

Sources told me there is significant amount repair required on the (S-32) Caribe beyond just replacing the battery banks, including to the propulsion system and forward trim tanks.

In 2017 (S-31) Sábalo was scheduled to have the battery banks replaced but there was never any confirmation if it was carried out either.

This led to a few years where those of us who discuss such things have been at odds over the current state of (S-31) Sábalo & (S-32) Caribe. Most believed they had fallen beyond repair as Venezuelas available oil revenue was hard hit by mismanagement and corruption and were likely never returning to the sea from DIANCA.

However much to my surprise on July 1, 2020 Vladimir Padrino sent this tweet out congratulating the crew of (S-31) Sábalo on another year of service, which seemed to indicate that at least one of the boats was back in the water and operational. When we look at the photos individually 3 show the Defence Minister inside the sub observing sailors at their stations and looking through the periscope, but the 4th photo shows the boat in the water on a cloudy day with a mountain background, and sailors laying out mooring ropes on the deck and standing on the mast. At the time I checked the photos and seeing that they were current pictures of Padrino inside the sub and I couldn't find anything via reverse image search so I assumed that the 4th photo was also current.

In conducting my analysis for this article I came across another photo from an article dated March 2012 that is identical in almost every way. The perspective is different being taken from a more head on angle, but otherwise everything including the background, and conditions of the day all match up, right down to the crew working on the mooring lines.

While the date on the article is not conclusive proof, I did confirm that it is at least 3 years old as the article was archived by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine here. This leads me to conclude that (S-31) Sábalo is likely not as operational as the Defence Minister would like us to believe if at all.

Check back for part 2 where we will take an in-depth look at the Mariscal Sucre class missile frigates F-21 Mariscal Sucre, F-22 Almirante Brion & F-24 General Soublette.

Written with information and images from Archive.org, ElSnorkel.com & InfoDefensa.com