Transport in Cuba
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December 2006
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Pimp my tank: Cuba remakes weapons with US foe in mind

Pimp my tank: Cuba remakes weapons with US foe in mind
Dec 01 7:53 PM US/Eastern

Cuba’s mechanics, famed for keeping vintage 1950s US cars on the road,
have brought their magic to the military, tweaking, chopping and
retooling Soviet-era war machinery, eying a potential US threat.

On Saturday as Cuba rolls out its guns to mark the 50th anniversary of
its armed forces, and Fidel Castro’s belated 80th birthday, the world
will get a rare glimpse at Cuba’s first military parade in a decade.

It is not one of the world’s biggest armed forces. But in Latin
America’s only communist-ruled country, so close to traditional enemy
the United States, Cuba takes defense seriously.

And the armed forces, led by Raul Castro, consider themselves the
backbone of the one-party system that has been in place for more than
four decades.

For many years Cuba did not buy new weapons but tried to maintain and
repair what it had from before 1989 when the Soviet Bloc collapsed. Raul
Castro has estimated the value of “donated” East Bloc weaponry obtained
1961-1990 at 30 billion dollars.

But as of 2003, as the economy recovered slightly from the economic
crash after 1989, Havana started spending a bit more on spare parts and
some new items, citing a greater US threat under President George W. Bush.

Among the priorities, artillery and missile units that are all
self-propelled, as suggested by a Cuban study, which found that they
would be harder for US aviation to locate and destroy, experts say.

Cubans have upgraded old Soviet-made vehicles, tricking them out with
cannons, special armor, guns where there once we none, special
maneuvering capacity, and other combat-ready assets to improve their
firepower and self-protection abilities.

A BMP armored troop transport vehicle for example has had an added
turret and a gun to boot.

BTRs, amphibian transport units, have been outfitted with ZU-23 double
anti-aircraft cannon.

Cuba’s military since the 1980s has anticipated a massive air war that
could be launched by the United States rather than a ground invasion,
which would likely cause massive casualties.

Cuban military officials also have said publicly that they have studied
recent conflicts in close detail, focusing on those in which the United
States is involved — particularly in Afghanistan and then Iraq.

“During drills carried out this week, Monday and Wednesday, 80 percent
of the equipment that was on display was anti-air — anti-aircraft and
anti-helicopter — as helicopters are the preferred US troop transport
mode,” a retired military official said privately, among curious onlookers.

Throughout this year, factories that normally turn out sugar cane
harvesting equipment and other farm machinery were turned over to the
Revolutionary Armed Forces.

And the result will be on parade with a message for the United States:
Cuba, though short on funds, is still able to modernize on a shoestring,
alongside its factories that make weapons and light vehicles.

“We will show the new, moderate techniques, that we ourselves have
modernized in military industry, Raul Castro said when he announced the
parade which he has organized.

After 1990, amid the gravest of economic crises, Cuba maintained that it
did not import weaponry.

Since 2003 however, given a green light for some new spending, Raul
Castro has had talks with Belarus this year and signed a technical
cooperation deal with Russia, technological heirs of the Soviets.

For two decades, Cuba’s overarching military strategy “War of an Entire
Nation,” has been to respond to a potential US invasion by spreading out
forces and weaponry as broadly as possible, as the only way to compete
with US technological superiority.

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