Wednesday, February 1, 2017

As Fires Burn, Chile Finds Itself Short on Firefighting Aircraft

A historic wave of forest fires has left much of Chile charred, a disaster that has underscored a lack of aircraft capable of fighting blazes. Fueled by years of drought, dozens of forest fires have broken out in the central and southern parts of the country. Teams from South America, France and other nations have rushed to the aid of Chilean crews overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the inferno. Some of those countries provided helicopters and airplanes with water-dropping equipment. Good thing, because apart from some helicopters dunking large buckets of water, the military has no aircraft with specialized equipment. Brazil's air force sent a pair of C-130 Hercules that are capable of spraying large areas of flames, and some planes like that would be valuable in Chile, where forest fires break out every year. As they do in any disaster, Chile's armed forces jumped into action with bulldozers, security forces and other resources. Many soldiers have been pressed into service as firefighters. Military helicopters and planes are being used to ferry firefighters and equipment. Now, they may get some firefighting equipment. A group of lawmakers is pushing to create a firefighting brigade within the military, and to acquire airplanes specially equipped to battle fires, according to a report posted in Noticias FFAA Chile. As long as the military is responding to disasters, it will need to make firefighting one of its areas of responsibility.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Patrol Vessel Program Expands Into Warship Role

The Navy is getting more ambitious with its offshore patrol vessel program. What began as a four-unit fleet of modestly armed boats quickly was increased to five, and the newer ships have a 76 mm main gun. (The first two OPVs had a 40 mm gun.) Now, the Navy says it's considering using the successful Fassmer-class platform to build corvettes. Chile needs to replace its three remaining missile boats, and hopes the replacement ships will increase capabilities. After putting three OPVs into service since 2007, the Navy's Asmar shipyard has gained valuable experience building the 1,850-ton vessels and feels confident to take on a larger project. This is not a new idea. From the beginning of the program, the Navy had an eye on evolving its OPVs into small combat ships. A report in Jane's, via Noticias FF AA Chile, notes that the new ships could be operational by the time the three Saar 4 missile craft will be retired, within a decade. The corvettes might also be called  littoral combat ships, and they would carry anti-ship missiles and an air defense system, plus more sensors. Removing the hangar and landing deck on the existing design, Chile's OPVs would have enough room to add those components. Jane's report says the corvettes would be at least 2,200 tons.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Navy Decides on Upgrades as it Faces Scandal

The Navy has been the most active of Chile's military branches this month, for good and bad. The three Type 23 frigates, the most modern of the fleet, will undergo extensive upgrades. Those include installing the Sea Ceptor air-defense missile to replace the Sea Wolf that came with the purchase of the vessels from Britain. The Sea Ceptor, which has a range of 25 km, is made by MBDA Missile Systems, a European consortium. The Type 23s also are getting the TRS 4D radar system from Airbus Defense and the CMS 330 naval combat system from Lockheed Martin Canada, according to Defensa.com. The project exceeds $180 million, and Chile's Asmar and Sisdef will participate in the project. Defensa.com also has reported that the Navy acquired Exocet Block III anti-ship missiles for at least one of its frigates, in what could be the first time the Exocet replaces the U.S.-made Harpoon system. Earlier this year, the Navy signed a contract with Canada-based IMP Aerospace for a major upgrade of P-3 Orion maritime reconnaissance aircraft, according to InfoDefensa. The project includes replacing parts of the wings and horizontal stabilizer on two P-3s plus new avionics systems and improved engines. Now, for the bad news: Nine sailors are under investigation for secretly installing video cameras with the intention of secretly taping female sailors aboard the frigate Almirante Lynch. The sailors face criminal charges and the scandal could hurt Chile's efforts to integrate more women into the armed forces. Update: The first Orion has left Chile to undergo its midlife upgrade, the Navy announced. The work will extend the service life of each P-3 by about 20 years.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Deals Widen Cooperation with Key Suppliers Airbus, Lockheed Martin

Chile's Ministry of Defense has signed cooperation agreements with two of its most important providers of military hardware. In one accord, the Air Force's Enaer aerospace company formed a partnership with Airbus to increase business opportunities for both companies in production and maintenance of aircraft and space programs. The agreement gives Enaer a measure of prestige by aligning itself with one of the top aviation companies in the world. Enaer has struggled to build its business, which has been primarily to serve as the maintenance arm of FACh. Airbus has made sales to Chile of C-235, C-295, a satellite and helicopters. Chile also has reached an agreement with Lockheed Martin to produce spare parts for the C-130 Hercules tactical transport planes. Chile operates five or six C-130s, including at least two that were transferred from U.S. stockpiles. Chile Navy uses Lockheed's P-3 Orion maritime reconnaissance airplane (which Lockheed is updating to a mid-life upgrade), and the F-16 forms the backbone of Chile's fighter force. FACh also is acquiring a half-dozen Black Hawk helicopters from Sikorsky, a division of Lockheed.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Chile Widens Military Ties with U.S.

The defense chiefs of the U.S. and Chile have signed a cooperation agreement, the latest step in a relationship that already has grown quite close between the two nations. The accord paves the way for research, development, testing and evaluation of defense projects. Already, Chile is one of the closest military allies of the U.S. in Latin America. The two countries operate a training center for peacekeeping missions in Chile, and there are frequent joint exercises. Chile's military is increasingly modeling itself after the U.S. and NATO, to the point that it can be viewed as an extension of U.S. military power. In the event of hostilities, Chile would have a lot of compatibility with their American counterparts, making it easy to operate jointly in a battlefield of the future. U.S. officials view such relationships as not only a projection of force, but also as a way to blunt the influence of rivals. China's military, for instance, has been making inroads with some Latin governments. Russia has clients for its weapons systems in Peru, Venezuela and other countries.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Chile Plans to End Military Funding from Copper as Cash Cow Runs Dry

The largest source of money for weapons acquisitions may finally be dismantled. Chile's government is moving to eliminate a 10% tax on the state-owned Codelco mining company's sales, a sum that goes directly for defense purchases. Plans to end the so-called copper law fizzled in two previous administrations, but now the proposal has more momentum than ever. Why? In short, because Codelco is running desperately low on cash. Depressed copper prices and lower-quality ores have combined to force Codelco to suffer losses. Usually the government's cash cow, Codelco now is seeking a government infusion of cash. The crisis has fanned hopes to free Codelco from its responsibility to the military, as officials revive a plan that would put acquisitions under general expenditures and place major programs in multi-year budget cycles. With a scandal unfolding in the armed forces' procurement process, lawmakers also see an opportunity to gain greater financial control. Since the boom in commodities in the 2000s, the copper tax provided Chile's military with more than $1 billion almost every year. That gave Chile the funds to make major upgrades of its warships, fighter jets and armor units. But now the price of copper is about half its peak in 2011. The money Codelco has passed on is far more than what Chile's military has spent, leaving a reserve that some estimate at more than $6 billion, which is being managed in a sovereign wealth fund. There's been little comment from the generals, but there is concern. Army chief Gen. Humberto Oviedo said Chile's run of more than 100 years without a war has been the result of a well-equipped military, and that advantage must be ensured. Because most weapons deals are financed over many years, the armed forces want to ensure themselves of a predictable source of funds.