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.

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.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

After 13 Years, Chile Will Exit Haiti Peacekeeping Mission

It was a long time coming, but Chile is ending its participation in the United Nations' stabilization force in Haiti. The government announced it will withdraw all troops in April, ending a 13-year role in the multinational peacekeeping mission. Defense Minister Jose Antonio Gomez said Haiti's elections symbolize the stabilization of the Caribbean nation, and that future international help will be in the form of policing rather than military operations. Chile has 436 troops in Haiti and had already pared its contingent the past couple of years. Chile's leaders had expressed reservations about the lengthy stay of the UN force in Haiti, part of the political pressure to take the troops home. The withdrawal doesn't mean Chile is getting out of the peacekeeping business. Gomez said Chile and Argentina are discussing sending an engineering unit from their joint task force to the Central African Republic, where Chile has a token UN presence thus far. In Colombia, Chile will have 75 observers watching over the peace deal between the Bogota government and FARC rebels. There may be other missions, Gomez added.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Purchase of 6 Black Hawk Helicopters All But Finalized

An Air Force general confirmed Chile has decided to buy a half-dozen Black Hawk helicopters, and most negotiations already are worked out and only the final details are pending. FACh is acquiring the Sikorsky S70i, the export version of the Black Hawk military configuration. The new helicopters are part of a process that started seven years ago to replace aged Bell UH-1H copters. In 2007, FACh acquired a dozen Bell 412EP to begin the modernization of its rotorcraft. Even before then, the Air Force acquired a single S60 Black Hawk that operates in the less-accessible regions of southern Chile. Details on cost, deliveries and electronic equipment of the new Black Hawks were not disclosed. Earlier this year, Air Force officials said they were looking for a helicopter model with in-flight refueling booms, advanced navigation systems and other equipment for combat search and rescue missions. Besides training missions, the most important roles for FACh helicopters are civilian search and rescue and disaster aid.