Is Venezuela's New Six-Barrelled Weapon System a Blast from the Past?

Not only in terms of inspiration but also through its components.
Ameya Paleja
The Ontos Venezuela during demonstration.GJ Dominigo Hernandez/Twitter

Earlier this year, Venezuela unveiled a new weapon system, Maisanta YZR also known as Ontos Venezuela that boasts six recoilless guns and sniper rifle scopes to target tanks on the battlefield. While details were largely missing back then, The Drive has broken down the vehicle from the information available so far and it is one assemblage of components that dates back to the Vietnam War. 

Before you begin to criticize the design wing of the defense establishment in the country, here's a little context. Venezuela has a strained relationship with the U.S. and its current and past presidents have criticized American participation in Latin America. Even as one of the largest exporters of crude oil, the country remains isolated from the wider world, which limits its capability to modernize its defense equipment. Ontos, Greek for 'The Thing,' is literally that, as it does not fit into any category that modern warfare can be segregated into. 

To start off, the fighting vehicle is heavily inspired by the M50 Ontos that the U.S. Marine Corps used in the 1950s before ending its service in 1970.  The M50 design also consisted of six barrels of M40A1 recoilless guns, however, the Venezuelan version places them in a single row, unlike the original that arranged them in two sets of four and two. The Drive suspects that weapons capacity is effectively the same as was in the original M50 of 18 rounds. 

The ammunition is likely to be high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) which was an option on the M50 as well but rarely used in that role. The other option, according to The Drive, is a high-explosive plastic tracer or HEP-T, usually used for unarmored targets. Ontos also boasts of six M8C spotting rifles against the four that were seen on the M50. The role of these rifles is to indicate that the M40A1s are aimed correctly at the target. However, instead of relying on puffs of smoke from the spotting rifle fire, the Venezuelan Ontos uses Soviet-era optical sights that relay images on a monitor in the hull of the fighting vehicle.

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The chassis of the Ontos is borrowed from the French AMX-13 light tank that Venezuela has formerly deployed before converting them into rocket launch systems with an Israeli defense manufacturer. The Drive reports that rocket launchers have now been decommissioned and Venezuela has a fair number of chassis in stock to put the Ontos into production.

In addition to the original M50 design, Ontos Venezuela has an 81-mm caliber mortar mounted on a bipod on the front side of the vehicle. The Drive suspects this to fire smoke shells that could help conceal the vehicle or even its personnel who need to dismount from the vehicle to reload the M40A1 guns. Apart from this, there is only a 50-caliber machine gun that can be used to defend this vehicle. 

The Venezuelan Ontos is designed largely to counter tanks but in this age of anti-tank guided missiles, it might be a little too late. 

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