Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Possible Consequences Chile's Military Faces in the Post-Revolt Era

Chile's military has been withdrawn from the streets after spending a 10-day deployment in security tasks during the state of emergency. As short as the mission was, it has left an indelible mark on the military. Not only is it dealing with the aftermath of shooting incidents, but its future could be altered as Chile deals with a populace seeking fundamental societal changes. These are some changes the armed forces could face:
  • For many years, the Army, Navy and Air Force found enough volunteers to fill its ranks, avoiding a need to draft young people. Will this year's revolt cause fewer to enlist?
  • With bigger security problems on the domestic side, can the military justify spending on strategic weapons such as armor or air defense systems? Will the Navy delay replacing two frigates? Meanwhile, the exit of Bolivian leader Evo Morales eases Chile's peskiest international threat.
  • The armed forces nurtured an image of community service, providing aid during natural disasters and staying neutral in politics. That image took a hit with the deployment, although many Chileans welcomed troops. To be fair, the protests showed there's a faction in Chile that is always hostile against the military.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Why Chile's Military Finds Itself in a No-Win Situation as it Faces Protesters

It didn't take long for Chile's military to register its first casualties in the country's mass protests. In the city of Curicó, an Army soldier is being held in the shooting death of a 25-year-old protester. In La Serena, an Ecuadorian man was killed by gunfire that is said to have come from a military patrol. In Coquimbo another fatal shooting may have been caused by troops. In Talcahuano, a man was run over by a military truck. These and other incidents are making the military's role one that's increasingly difficult and controversial -- and one it didn't want. The armed forces reluctantly joined the efforts to pacify thousands of demonstrators. Asked about President Sebastian Piñera's description of events as a "war," Army chief Gen. Javier Iturriaga replied, "I am not at war with anyone." Indeed, the military finds itself in a tough spot, facing hostile crowds and unable to control the crisis the way it did in 2010. Back then, troops took to the streets to stop looting in the wake of a great earthquake. People welcomed soldiers. But this time, the armed forces are combatants. It didn't help that before this month's violent outbreak, several cases of corruption had tarnished the military's reputation. Gen. Iturriaga and other commanders may spend years dealing with consequences of the October revolt.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Military Breaks Long Tradition Of Avoiding Protests As Chile Struggles To Control Riots

For the first time since military rule, Chile's Army and Marines have been ordered into the streets to quell massive protests. The order came after protesters set fire to subway stations, buses and stores in Santiago in a movement that quickly spread to other provinces. President Sebastian Piñera, overwhelmed by the scale of destruction, ordered the armed forces to help restore order Oct. 19. Much of the country was place under a state of emergency. Defense Minister Alberto Espina said troops were deployed to protect critical infrastructure installations, such as power plants and water facilities, that were threatened or came under attack. But troops are also patrolling streets and facing protesters. Soldiers are armed with assault rifles and live ammunition, and shots have been fired at rioters. All this makes for a messy situation for Chile's military, which had stayed away from public strife since the return of democracy nearly 30 years ago. Troops were deployed after the February 2010 earthquake to control massive looting. But this time, the military is in the thick of a political convulsion that has no easy or short-term answers. Troops are facing threats that are not part of their regular training, creating a risky mix of tension and firepower. As of Sunday, Oct. 20, troops remained on patrol with Humvees, trucks, Mowag 6x6 and 8x8 armored vehicles. More than 9,000 troops were deployed over the weekend, but even then it was not enough to cover all the flashpoints. Local television showed some neighborhoods organizing their own security, with whatever weapons they could muster.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Some Weapons Acquisitions Flying Under the Radar

Military hardware spending has been limp for several years in Chile, but there have been some noteworthy acquisitions. Here's the highlights from 2016-18, pulled from the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

  • Four Thales Ground Master air defense radars. The three-dimensional radar system can be used on fixed or mobile platforms, and has an operational range of 470 km and 100,000 feel in elevation. There is no information on which branch of the armed forces bought the radars, and there is no confirmation of delivery.
  • Two Airbus Helicopters AS-532 Cougars from France. These are transport helicopters for the Navy that were delivered in 2016.
  • Three Hensoldt TRS-4D Multifunction radars from Germany. These 3D radars, with a range of 250 km, were installed on the Navy's three Type 23 frigates.
  • MBDA CAMM  air defense missiles (Sea Ceptor). Also part of the modernization of the Type 23 frigates, the Common Anti-Air Modular System was delivered in 2017, according to SIPRI's database. Sea Ceptor has a range of more than 25 km.

Other acquisitions in the database include items that have been in the news already, such as the Black Hawk MH-60M utility helicopters and Hercules KC-130R tankers for FACh.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Chile's Military Surrenders its Prized Treasure as 'Copper Law' Ends

Chile's government struck down the principal funding mechanism for weapons systems, which for decades provided billions of dollars and made it possible to acquire top fighter jets, armor and warships. The legislature, where the plan had stalled for nine years, finally voted to end the so-called copper law July 24, and President Sebastian Piñera will sign the bill Aug. 6. For more than 60 years, the state-owned Codelco copper mining company passed on 10% of export sales to the armed forces for weapons purchases. (In 2018 alone, Codelco's total sales were $14.3 billion, most of it in exports.) Now, the military will compete for funds along with all other government agencies. Here are the key points of the new law:
  • Each year, minimum spending floors will be set for maintenance and updates of weapons systems. Those will be based roughly on the average costs over the preceding six-year period. By some estimates, that could be $500 million a year.
  • An eight-year strategic spending policy will guide major acquisitions, and those will be budgeted in four-year increments.
  • All funds that had accumulated from Codelco are being turned over to the national treasury. But the government will create a strategic contingency fund to replace equipment that suffers major damage. It may also be used for acquisitions under the strategic plans.
  • Codelco's annual contributions are not going away anytime soon. It will continue to provide 10% of sales for nine years. After that, its payments will phase out over three additional years.
  • The new law includes steps that shift spending oversight away from the military and into the hands of the elected government. For example, the government's comptroller will review each four-year spending plan, and legislative committees will have an oversight role. In general, defense procurement will become more transparent.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Chile's Military Goes All in Against Drug Trafficking

Chile's armed forces have a new mission: They are the latest weapon against drug trafficking, especially in border areas. President Sebastian Piñera signed a decree that gives the military expanded powers and sets guidelines for their new role. The Army, Navy and Air Force will collaborate with police agencies to combat illegal drugs and organized crime. It's a landmark decision because governments have been reluctant to put the military in domestic security tasks since military rule ended in 1990. Piñera, however, says drug trafficking is an epidemic that must be fought with all available tools. Those tools are surveillance equipment, electronic sensors and logistical support the military can provide to watch over a porous border in the north of Chile. There are reservations, if not criticism, of the plan by some government officials, especially among the opposition. Determined to keep memories of the military junta in the past, some want assurances that the military's role will be limited and that the police will not become subordinate to the generals. Others are skeptical that the military can be an effective crime-fighter. The country's comptroller has requested more details and wants Piñera to better define what he means by "collaboration."