Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Marine's Death in Haiti Comes As Chile Weighs Continued Role

A Marine sergeant serving in Chile's peacekeeping battalion was killed as protesters fired on a military unit. The marine died of a gunshot wound to the head in the April 13 incident. It wasn't the first Chilean casualty in Haiti. In 2012, another sergeant was gunned down outside a bar, and a soldier committed suicide while on leave. The latest death was the first as a result of political violence, and it comes at a time when Chile and other nations are running out of patience with the 11-year-old Haiti mission. Argentina has already announced a sharp reduction in its Haiti forces. In social media, Chileans are urging to bring the boys back home. Among politicians, there is growing skepticism. In May 2014, Chile authorized a one-year extension of its participation in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH. With that authorization nearing an end, Chile may find itself ready to withdraw. There are political and military reasons for getting involved in peacekeeping missions. Multinational deployments increase cooperation among countries and nations earn a bit of global goodwill for helping out in areas of crisis. For the military, peacekeeping can provide training and a legitimate role for troops. Even if Chile pulls out of Haiti, it seems committed to peacekeeping. It has a training facility for peacekeepers and it formed a joint task force with Argentina. Countries agree to provide troops for "blue helmet" missions with the assumption that risks will be lower than in combat. But casualties do occur. The UN lists 67 deaths of military personnel and 33 police who have served with MINUSTAH.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Chile's Disasters and the Military's Muscle

Trading rifles for shovels
The north of Chile is still digging out from massive floods and mudslides after an unusual rainstorm hit the region March 25. As in other natural disasters, Chile's armed forces have provided essential aid, including airlifting supplies, rescuing victims, clearing roads and setting up field hospitals. Troops also are providing security by patrolling the stricken areas. At times of crisis like this, Chile's military usually shines. With at least one natural disaster each year in Chile, the military gets plenty of opportunity to be rescuers. But each disaster underscores the need for more airlift capability. Finally, some help is on the way. Minister of Defense Jorge Burgos confirmed the Air Force is acquiring helicopters. He declined to say how many and what type. But his remarks followed comments by a top FACh officer who said he expects a few Black Hawk helicopters to be added. Connect the dots, and the acquisition Burgos is talking about could be a batch of Black Hawks. FACh has been looking to replace its Bell UH-1H helicopters. Burgos also mentioned he will seek the acquisition of the sister ship of the Navy's only multirole ship. That vessel, the Sargento Aldea, has provided critical relief support by bringing vehicles, supplies and its own on-board hospital. Still, the minister sounded cautious about securing approval for the purchase.

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.