Sunday, September 27, 2015

More Than 130 Years on, Chile and Bolivia Unable to Escape War's Legacy

Bolivia won a legal victory in its fight to reclaim an outlet to the Pacific Ocean, when the International Court of Justice allowed its case against Chile to proceed. Chile had challenged the court's jurisdiction, arguing its authority is limited to treaties since 1948 only. But the court ruled Chile has an obligation to negotiate a settlement with Bolivia. What's next? A full trial, although the court indicated it is not going to judge the results of the two countries' negotiations. Unlike last year's amicable resolution with Peru, Chile is entirely rejecting Bolivia's claims, citing the two countries' treaties. The dispute has its roots in the War of the Pacific (1879-1884), which resulted with Chile winning control of Bolivia's coastline and vast territory from Peru. For Bolivia, it was a specially painful loss, because it not only became a landlocked country but also lost a region that today includes rich copper mines. The war stands as one of the great pivotal moments in Latin American history, and one of the most costly. Chile, Peru and Bolivia are still dealing with its aftermath. There are a couple of excellent books on the war. "Andean Tragedy" provides deep details on the combatants and a detailed account of the entire conflict. "The 10 Cents War" is another commendable work with impartial analysis.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Once Again, Military In Disaster-Relief Mode

Chile's 8.3-magnitude earthquake and tsunami left considerable damage, and as is customary with every major natural disaster, the armed forces have been called out to help. About 150 Marines were initially deployed to the area of Coquimbo, one of the hardest hit by the Sept. 16 quake, to help maintain security. Much of the area lost electric power, and the tsunami left many buildings and roads damaged. The Navy also has sent its multi-role ship, the Sargento Aldea, to provide medical aid, cleanup, search and rescue and other assistance. The ship has become synonymous with disaster relief because it has the largest carrying capacity of any vessel in the Navy, plus it has a hospital unit. Tapping a special constitutional power, President Michelle Bachelet has put the senior officer in the region, the commander of the Army's 2nd Motorized Division, in charge of security. That gives the general power to mobilize more troops if necessary and coordinate efforts with all branches of the military.  There's been no curfew. The mobilization has been much smaller than in the 2010 and 2014 earthquakes, which were more damaging. In fact, more Chileans have died in traffic accidents during the holiday weekend than due to the earthquake. This time, there's been no need for a massive airlift like in 2010 or much clearing to do on streets or highways, where the Army's engineering units can be especially helpful.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Lessons from the Army's Worst Modern-Day Tragedy

Ten years ago, Chile's Army suffered is worst peacetime disaster. An infantry unit was ordered to march into the Andes as part of a training exercise, just as a blizzard moved into the area. More than halfway to their destination (a mountain shelter), the wind and snow started taking soldiers' lives. Of 77 that started the march, 45 died. The rest managed to reach the shelter and were rescued. None of the 77 had the clothing necessary to withstand the -35 degree chill around the Antuco volcano. The men of the 17th Reinforced Regiment also couldn't get their radios, GPS and other equipment to work in the freezing cold. The May 18, 2005 tragedy sparked a crisis in the Army, one that led to several organizational changes. The Army created its first mountain division and a mountain search and rescue team. It acquired cold-weather gear, some of which is now used for disaster aid. Its doctrine now asks officers to consider the consequence of orders rather than follow them in strict terms. Perhaps most important, a project was launched to equip every unit on the field with adequate radio equipment. Some Army officers were convicted for their role in the deadly march. The unit's commander was sentenced to five years in prison, but was released after three years and eight months. Four others received shorter sentences. Of the Antuco survivors, 22 continue serving in the Army.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Details from Disclosures, Plus the Military's Budget

Although Chile's military keeps its acquisitions pretty quiet, it does disclose purchases to the United Nations and the Organization of American States. From those databases, we learn some details about new weapons. A look at the disclosures -- plus the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute -- reveals some interesting items:
  • AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, first announced in 2009, have been delivered. Ninety missiles were delivered out of an authorization for 100. Norway is listed as the supplier, meaning the missiles will be used for the NASAMS surface-to-air defense system.
  • More than 300 rockets for the LAR-160 artillery system were bought from Israel in 2007-12.
  • Last year, Chile acquired 800 Herstal Minimi light machine guns. That's a strong sign that the Minimi will become the Army's standard infantry squad machine gun.
  • Confirming a rumor, documents list the purchase of 20 Python IV air-to-air missiles from Israel.
  • A half-dozen MPQ-64 Sentinel radars were bought, and four are listed as delivered. 
  • In 2006, several Mowag armored vehicles were modified to carry missiles, and four were installed with 25 mm cannon.

Chile also has provided a summary of its defense budget for 2014, in U.S. dollars (in millions):
ArmyNavyAir ForceTotal
Operations and maintenance$5.82$71.01$72.87
Investments-- $2.78$0.27
Research & Development-- --$2.97$200.57

Friday, July 24, 2015

Navy's Largest Ship on Lease to Canada

The Navy is leasing out a fleet replenishment ship to Canada, earning some rental fees while helping an allied nation. Canada agreed to pay Chile $4.8 million to use the Almirante Montt for 40 days, according to Defense News. The rental leaves Chile without its largest ship, but the 42,000-ton vessel is not critical to the Navy because it has another tanker ship, the 26,000-ton Araucano. The smaller ship was added to the fleet in 2010, when it was purchased second-hand from a company called Ultragas. The Araucano underwent improvements at the Asmar shipyard until 2013 to bring it up to the requirements to serve as a fleet tanker. Chile uses the two supply ships for joint training exercises, including some that are conducted as part of international security treaties. Canada has retired its two supply ships, and construction of two replacement vessels has been delayed until 2021. That's left Canada scrambling to find ships that can serve as stop-gap solutions.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Chinese Fishing Ships Get the Attention of Chile's Navy

No fish, no foul
The Navy scrambled a patrol ship and a couple of aircraft after a flotilla of Chinese fishing vessels suddenly showed up in Chilean territorial waters. A fast-deployment force boarded the ships but found no evidence of illegal fishing, so the Chinese fishermen were allowed to continue. A separate group of Chinese fishing boats was boarded off the island of Chiloe. It was unusual to find Chinese boats that far into the eastern Pacific, and it made for an awkward situation for China, which is wooing Chile for space and military deals. Chile has an exclusive economic zone that runs 200 miles off the shoreline. Fishing and fish farming are some of Chile's most important industries, and shipping lanes are vital to the country's foreign trade. But with only eight surface warships and three offshore patrol vessels capable of reaching the deeper waters of that zone, there are plenty of coverage gaps. In fact, it was Chilean fishermen who spotted the Chinese boats, not the Navy. Several reconnaissance aircraft share patrol responsibilities, but they also seem inadequate in number to watch over an area that is five times larger than Chile's land mass. In addition, Chile has search and rescue responsibilities for an even larger ocean zone that spans about 1 1/2 times the total surface area of South America. Chile is building a fourth offshore patrol vessel, and has plans for a fifth. There are no immediate plans to add long-range airplanes. The few P-3 Orions are being refurbished extensively.