Sunday, May 15, 2016

Army Post Sparks Outrage from Bolivia

Chile has set up an Army post near the border with Bolivia, in an area known for drug trafficking, auto theft and robberies. Only 13 soldiers are camped out in the small site, which is characterized as an observation post that works with police units in the region. Small as it may be, Bolivia's government has accused Chile of threatening the security of Bolivia and of breaking a treaty between the two nations. It's just the latest in a series of accusations the government of President Evo Morales has made in a thus-far fruitless campaign to win back the territory Chile conquered in the 19th-Century War of the Pacific. Truth be told, Bolivia has its own military post 1 1/2 kilometers from the Chilean border, and it's a much larger facility. Chilean officials, in turn, are accusing Bolivia of creating a controversy. Where is it all leading? Nowhere. Morales may score some political points at home with his bravado, but he has little leverage (or hope) to gain any part of the Pacific Ocean.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Corruption Probe Opens Window to Military's Secret Funding

Many of Chile's institutions have been caught up in various corruption probes, including government officials, major corporations and the soccer federation. Add the armed forces to that list. It started with accusations that some lower-ranked officers stole funds from a military budget whose expenditures are often kept from the public. Now, investigators are targeting a former head of the Army. Retired Gen. Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba is suspected of having improperly profited while he was commander in chief of the Army. Among the facts that have come to light during the probe is the extensive network of suppliers the Army uses. Some 120 companies sell goods and services to the Army, expenditures that are kept secret under the law. The sums totaled an average of $200 million between 2005 and 2014. That's roughly one-fifth of a budget derived from a 10% tax on sales by the state-owned Codelco mining giant. Under a government transparency program, the salaries of the military commanders is now disclosed. The Army chief makes 4,049,575 pesos a month, or nearly $6,000 in U.S. currency. The Navy's top officer earns close to $6,200 while the top Air Force general gets $6,600. Those are larger paychecks than their counterparts in Peru and Colombia receive, according to El Mercurio. A Chilean Army general in charge of a division earns $5,737 a month, and a brigadier general $5,466. The top Air Force officers make more than Army and Navy officers in the same rank. A FACh general earns $6,336 a month and a brigadier general $6,057.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Army Loses Puma Helicopter in Crash; Crew Member Killed

The stricken H-264
An Army helicopter crashed in the Andes, destroying the aircraft and leaving one of its crew members dead. The crew mechanic died at the scene of the April 20 accident, while the pilots and crew chief were injured and rescued. The helicopter was on a mission to provide maintenance to a repeater antenna in the mountains when it struck a rock and crashed, according to preliminary details. The helicopter was identified as a Puma with tail number H-264. Photos of the helicopter show it was one of the Pumas SA-330s that have been in the Army for several decades and that the Army has been trying to replace. The most recent acquisition of helicopters for the Army was a few Cougar helicopters, a newer and larger version of the Pumas, in 2013. Army officials have expressed interest in enlarging the fleet of medium helicopters. At the moment, only the Air Force (FACh) is in advanced plans to purchase helicopters.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Benefits for Civilian Life Help Boost Volunteers for Military Service

Volunteers fill the barracks.
This year, nearly 13,000 Chilean men and women will be entering military service, as enough volunteers stepped forward to fill the requirements of all three branches. Although the armed forces usually find enough volunteers, last year's recruitment class was short by 11%, which forced a draft. This year, nearly 20,000 sought entrance, meaning one-third were turned away. Why the big jump? The military stepped up its benefits. Today's volunteers have more incentives than other recruitment classes, such as new educational opportunities, a gateway to careers in police and the military, plus help with childcare and subsidies if a soldier enters higher education. Military service also provides young people with job training they can use in civilian life. Medical, machinery and auto repair are some of the fields that ex-soldiers can go into. In addition, those assigned to Chile's extreme areas get extra time off and airfare for a relative to visit. For the 2016 class, the Army is enlisting more than 12,000 (including 1,500 women), the Navy 500 and the Air Force 324.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Fidae Roundup: Helicopters Sought; Upgrades for Rifles, Orions

The biannual Fidae air show concluded this past weekend and, as it usually does, resulted in fresh updates on programs and acquisitions for Chile's armed forces. Here's a look at the most notable items out of the show:

The Air Force plans to purchase several medium-lift helicopters later this year. The favorite is said to be the Sikorsky Black Hawk, although the Russian Mil Mi-17, AgustaWestland AW139 and Airbus Helicopters H215M are also in contention. The $180 million deal would be for up to seven helicopters with high-altitude capabilities to operate in the Andes, in-flight refueling probes, advanced navigation systems and other equipment for combat search and rescue missions.

The Army is upgrading its SIG assault rifles under a program carried out by the military-owned Famae arms manufacturer. The upgrade includes adding Picatinny rails (to attach accessories) to the barrel portion of the gun, and a foldable buttstock, according to an article via Noticias FFAA Chile. Chile has about 50,000 serviceable SIG rifles in 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm versions. Front-line troops are being equipped with the Galil ACE 22 5.56 mm assault rifle, but other units will continue to use the SIG 540 and 542 models.

Lockheed Martin is replacing the wings on two Orion P-3 maritime reconnaissance planes, part of a midlife upgrade that includes new engines and cockpit improvements. Deliveries to the Navy are set for next year for the first plane and 2018 for the second, according to Defensa.com.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Women Allowed To Join Combat Units of Chile's Army

No more limitations
For the first time, women will be able to serve in all combat and front-line units of the Chilean Army. The new order allows women into the infantry and armored units, the last remaining areas that had been limited to men only. Females slowly have been integrated into Army combat units, in an evolution that already finds women in artillery, aviation and other units. The process began to take root in 1995, when women were first permitted to enter the Army academy. It continues today with a bill in the legislature that eliminates the female military service and replaces it with a gender-neutral system. The government and the Army view that as an important step to prevent sex discrimination. The number of women enlisting has been increasing as well. Only about 15% of Army personnel are female, although that figure has been rising every year.