Saturday, January 24, 2015

Is Air Force Souring on its F-16s?

Chile's Air Force let out an unusual critique of the F-16s it acquired from the Netherlands, raising questions about the condition of the country's front-line aviation assets. The news came in a roundabout way. Colombia's air force is shopping for new fighter jets, and is considering used F-16s. As part of that evaluation, Colombian aviators checked in with Chile's Air Force, which is the largest operator of F-16s in Latin America. Chile's response wasn't encouraging: Think twice about buying used F-16s. Chilean officers said the cost and effort to upgrade the used F-16s have been more than expected, according to a report in Defensa.com. The article also quotes a Dutch officer who says some key components were replaced with used parts of lower quality before the planes were transferred to Chile. Moreover, to win U.S. approval for the sale, the Dutch had to downgrade key elements of each plane, including the radar, software, and had to remove the hardware to fire AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and anti-radiation missiles. FACh is upgrading all second-hand F-16s, which have already gone through the midlife upgrade, to the Tape 4 standard, which includes capabilities for advanced air-to-air missiles, advanced targeting pods and other electronic upgrades.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Police Bring up Armor Against Indigenous Rebels

Chile's police has been adding armored vehicles in the Araucania region, where it is battling radical Mapuches who have been carrying out a campaign of arson and other attacks. The Carabineros moved in several Mowag 4x4 armored personnel carriers to bolster a force that often has been overmatched in fighting the indigenous group. Now, Panhard PVP vehicles have been added and are in the region, according to Defensa.com. The Carabineros' latest armored vehicle were originally acquired for the Marines and used in the Chilean UN contingent in Haiti. With Chile winding down its commitment in Haiti, the eight Panhards have been reassigned to the national police. Also, at least two Renault Sherpa APCs of the Carabineros special forces unit have been seen in the area, the website said. Chances are, they'll get plenty of use. Attacks, especially arson, have not let up. At least one victim has fired back, literally. A watchman shot one of the men who set fire to trucks and farm equipment.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Sizing up Bolivia as a Potential Enemy

Bolivia is asking the International Court of Justice to grant it access to the Pacific Ocean through Chile, a move that has deepened a historic rift between the two nations. The dispute dates back to the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), which resulted in Chile annexing the coastal territory of Bolivia. The loss has been a sore spot for Bolivians, and the government of Evo Morales has used it as a cause to rally the nation. It's highly doubtful the conflict would lead to war, however. If it came to blows, the fighting would be over quickly: Chile's military dwarfs Bolivia's, which has no credible armor, artillery, air power or even infantry. Indications are that its army doesn't even have enough assault rifles for all its troops. Rather, Bolivia is hoping the Court of Justice delivers a sympathetic ruling and hands it a diplomatic victory. Could Bolivia wage a low-intensity war of sabotage and harassment? That's not likely either, because Bolivia already has an important business presence in the disputed area. Chile argues a 1904 treaty set the border that remains in force today. Bolivia says it signed the treaty under duress. Chile has countered that the International Court has no jurisdiction over treaties so old. The dispute is in large part a battle for public opinion, and La Moneda produced a video that shows how it has already granted Bolivia free access to ports, railroads and other facilities that give that country de facto access to the Pacific. Like other Latin American land disputes, this one will be fought through economic and political means. So don't expect Chilean F-16s to buzz Bolivia anytime soon.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chile Passes on 2nd Multirole Ship, Retires Missile Boats

The Navy has retired its Type 148 Tiger missile boats, which had been stationed in the northern naval base in Iquique. Two had already been deleted and the remaining two were retired Dec. 15, according to InfoDefensa. Although the Navy made no formal announcement, its website no longer lists the Tiger Type 148s in its fleet. The missile boats had limited range and endurance, but served as capable coastal defense units with their four Exocet anti-ship missiles and 76mm gun. The boats were acquired second-hand from Germany in 1997. There are no plans to replace them, InfoDefensa says. That would make it three Navy vessels retired from service in two months, including the pending deletion of the submarine tender Almirante Merino in January. Moreover, the government decided not to acquire a second multirole ship. The Navy had sought the sister ship of the ex-French Foudre, which Chile acquired in 2011. But the government cited the high cost and questioned the need for another such vessel, despite that Chile's ship has served a valuable relief role in natural disasters and as an auxiliary hospital. Indeed, InfoDefensa notes that the vast modernization of Chile's military is drawing to an end. The Army and Air Force have shelved plans to acquire medium transport aircraft, and FACh also is putting off the acquisition of higher-performance helicopters. The government still wants to end the tax on Codelco's sales to finance defense deals, and it has left funds from that tax unspent. Even while the budget proposal remains stuck in Congress, the fact remains that military acquisitions have slowed sharply in the past few years.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chile's Military Tries to Bury its Junta Legacy

Long ago, Chile's armed forces moved on from their past as the country's rulers. Now, they seem to be wiping away any remaining memories of that era. The Army deleted the name of Gen. Agusto Pinochet from a medal. The Navy is retiring in January a submarine tender that was named after Adm. José Toribio Merino Castro, the Navy chief who was part of the junta that overthrew President Salvador Allende in 1973. Don't expect another ship to bear that name in the future, said Defense Minister Jorge Burgos. There's been public pressure to eliminate reminders of the junta from other places, such as street names. Burgos denied that the retirement of the sub tender had anything to do with politics. As far as the impact on the Navy goes, there are no plans to acquire a replacement, and other vessels such as offshore patrol boats or the multirole ship Sargento Aldea will take over its role. Tenders are used to resupply submarines out at sea and to give the sub crews some breathing space. The Almirante Merino was acquired from Sweden in 1997. It was launched in 1969, originally built as a mine layer.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

How to be a Professional Soldier in Chile

The Army is putting out its annual call for young men who want to become professional soldiers. It's a five-year commitment, with not only a paycheck but the opportunity to learn a trade, get free housing and health care and, after three years, the chance to apply to become a noncommissioned officer. With unemployment among young adults running high in Chile, the 7,000 openings are likely to fill up. But there are stringent (if not curious) requirements. Women cannot apply for the program, although they can enlist and even become officers under other programs. Applicants must be single, have no children, be 18 to 25 years old and be in good health. In addition, applicants must pass a physical, a mental evaluation, a 2,400-meter run and pass other tests.