Thursday, June 30, 2016

In the South, the Uprising Continues; Churches Targeted

Indigenous extremists continue their campaign of violence in the south of Chile, although authorities were finally able to win a conviction. Seven Mapuches were sentenced to three years for their role in the ambush of forestry workers. The most common form of attack is arson against forestry companies and ranchers. But gunfire is sometimes used, as was the case in June, when a home and a pickup truck were damaged by bullets. A news report revealed an armed militia operating in the Araucania region. In a new phase in the conflict, churches are being attacked too. Evangelical churches in particular have asked the government for protection after some were hit by arsonists believed to be part of Mapuche extremist elements. The conflict has been raging for years, and two consecutive presidential administrations have been unable to prevent attacks, take down extremist cells or -- better yet -- find a solution to the Mapuches' grievances.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Promises of Aircraft and UAVs, but Few Details

In a rare public announcement of military acquisition plans, Chile says it will add three Hercules C-130H transport planes to supplement the air force's airlift capabilities. The acquisition — disclosed in an annual document outlining major government programs and goals — doesn't say from what country the planes are being purchased or if the planes will replace the old Hercules now in service with FACh. The H series Hercules were first delivered in the 1960s, so FACh certainly isn't getting any aircraft in their prime. President Michelle Bachelet's message merely said the planes will be used for troop transport, disaster relief and to reach remote areas of the country — roles that military aviation habitually handles. The government also said plans are proceeding for the purchase of multipurpose medium helicopters, a program that was announced earlier this year. The number or model of the helicopters is not mentioned, and the only background provided is that they'll be used for military operations and disaster relief. In addition, Chile says it will continue to acquire unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). But again, no details on how many or what type. The only detail provided is that the UAVs will be used for surveillance, reconnaissance and, of course, assistance in case of natural disasters. For the Navy, the only acquisition program mentioned was the replacement of the Skymaster light naval reconnaissance planes with P68 aircraft. Deliveries end in 2017. The Army is set to acquire 330 trucks of various types, with the priority going to vehicles capable of handling evacuations and cargo transport. Indeed, Chile is not preparing for war, but for the next natural disaster. Bachelet's document also says the Army is developing new electronic warfare systems and is implementing an integrated data and communications system to better track and control troop movements.

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.