Sunday, March 29, 2015

Tierra Del Fuego Island Cleared of Mines, but Job Continues

The arduous job of clearing Chile's minefields reached a milestone this month, when Isla Grande in Tierra Del Fuego was declared free of landmines. But the achievement also served as a reminder of just how much more work is still needed to rid the country of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. After clearing more than 96,000 anti-personnel mines, the task is barely half completed. In the far south region of Magallanes, 78% of mines are gone. The minefields near the borders with Peru and Bolivia are farther behind. Still, Chile has a target date of 2020 to complete the job, which is obligated to perform as a signer of the Ottawa Convention. The mines were Chile's answer to the threat of war with Argentina in 1978, when Argentina had a far superior military and Chile was coping simultaneously with a threatened attack from Peru. The crises eventually abated, but the landmines remain a legacy of those tense days. Traditionally, mines have served the weaker armies with an effective way to confront adversaries. Mines have a deleterious effect on maneuver forces, if not a lethal one. At least the problem is manageable in Chile, which charted all of its minefields. In many other countries, it's anyone's guess where mines have been laid.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Deal with Alenia Aermacchi Raises Hopes of Aircraft Acquisitions

C-27J Spartan
Chile has signed a collaboration agreement with Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi to provide support services for the C-27J tactical transport plane and the M-345 advanced trainer jet. Chile does not have either plane in its inventory, which raises the possibility that both aircraft will be acquired. Both, in fact, have been under consideration for years but Chile never has reached the stage of signing a purchase agreement. The Italian company says it plans on a "long-term commitment." Chile's Air Force and Army have shown interest in the C-27J Spartan as a replacement for the C-212 and C-235 transports. FACh has eyed the M-345 as the final layer in its training fleet, which has the Pillan basic trainer, the Halcon trainer jet and the Super Tucano turboprop, which shares a role as light bomber. Enaer, the FACh-operated aerospace company, will provide the support services and receive technical know-how from Alenia Aermacchi. Severe flooding in the normally dry north of Chile the past week has underscored the need for transport aircraft as the military rushes aid and rescue teams. With scores of towns and cities cutoff by floodwaters, helicopters and planes capable of landing on short or unimproved runways are essential assets. Reports from the disaster area show that Chile could use more of them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New Black Hawks, Jet Engines for Air Force

The Air Force is making some modest acquisitions, including two or three Black Hawk helicopters and jet engines for the F-16 fighter. The commander of the Third Air Brigade in Puerto Montt confirmed the helicopters would be added to the single Black Hawk that FACh already operates out of that base. That helicopter, of the S-70A-39 version, was acquired in 1998. Chile did not exercise options to acquire 11 more, leaving it the only Black Hawk in the Air Force inventory, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The commander did not say what country is selling the helicopters, and there's no confirmation from the Pentagon. The U.S. Defense Dept. did list a contract to Pratt & Whitney to rebuild F110 engines, the type used in the F-16, for Chile. The contract is part of a modernization program for the front-line fighter fleet.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Volunteer Numbers Rise, Ending 7-Year Declining Trend

More women rush to recruitment tables
More than 17,000 men and women have signed up to serve in the armed forces, an increase of 4.6% from last year's recruitment period. That ends a seven-year streak of declining sign-ups, the Ministry of Defense announced. The slowdown never threatened the military, however. Every year since the volunteer system went into effect, the three branches have been able to fill their requirements. This year, only 11,000 of the 17,000 applicants will be accepted for one- or two-year enlistments. The number of women trying to enter the military continues to rise: More than 4,000 registered, but only 1,060 will be taken. Defense Minister Jorge Burgos says the slots for women may need to be increased. For thousands of young Chileans, love of country and a sense of adventure motivate them to become soldiers or sailors, much like in any other country. But another draw is the trade skills they can learn. As this blog has noted, it's not a stretch to call the armed forces the nation's largest trade school. And for those who go on to specialize in explosives, the mining industry can provide a comfortable living in civilian life. Although all enlisted personnel join voluntarily, Chile still maintains a draft registration system for all males ages 17-24. If the volunteer pool ever proves to be insufficient, the Ministry of Defense would resort to a compulsory draft.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Peru Accuses Naval Officers of Spying for Chile

Two Peruvian naval officers have been charged with giving Chile sensitive military information. A third officer is under investigation. The scandal comes just as the two countries were improving their relations and leaving their territorial disputes in the distance. Last year, the nations complied with a ruling of the International Court of Justice that granted Peru a larger piece of the Pacific. The thaw was a welcomed development for Chile's government, which is dealing with a much more hostile dispute with Bolivia. Besides the political fallout, the spying case could also impact Chile's strategic vision. The government of President Michelle Bachelet is hoping to forge closer ties with Peru, the same way Chile did with Argentina years ago. Argentina now stands as a model of successful diplomacy. Once bitter rivals, the neighboring nations are now allies. They've formed a joint peacekeeping force and both militaries cooperate extensively. That's allowed Chile to reduce its defenses along the Argentina border. Bachelet's hope is to someday have the same detente with Peru, and earn a peace dividend. There's been other spying cases in the past, usually involving Peruvians or Bolivians spying for Chile.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Air Force Acquires 2 Surplus C-130 Planes from U.S.

Chile has acquired two C-130 Hercules from U.S. Navy stockpiles — the most significant addition of transport aircraft since the 2010 purchase of KC-135 planes. The Hercules will be delivered this year and next, according to El Mercurio. The newspaper reported the C-130s are part of the H series, the same as two others already in FACh's fleet. The purchase is confirmed in the database of Excess Defense Articles of the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which shows Chile paid $7 million for each plane. The agency's database also shows the transfers were authorized in 2012 and 2013, indicating that Chile didn't accept them until recently. The planes are listed as C-130R, a Marine Corps air-refueling version with hose and drogue refueling pods. It's possible that the refueling capabilities have been removed, which is why the newspaper says the Hercules are H-series rather than the R version. On a related note, the DSCA database also lists a transfer last year of two F110-129 jet engines — which are used for the F-16 fighter — at a cost of $3.89 million.