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.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Is Air Force Souring on its F-16s?

Chile's Air Force let out an unusual critique of the F-16s it acquired from the Netherlands, raising questions about the condition of the country's front-line aviation assets. The news came in a roundabout way. Colombia's air force is shopping for new fighter jets, and is considering used F-16s. As part of that evaluation, Colombian aviators checked in with Chile's Air Force, which is the largest operator of F-16s in Latin America. Chile's response wasn't encouraging: Think twice about buying used F-16s, they said. Chilean officers said the cost and effort to upgrade the used F-16s have been more than expected, according to a report in Defensa.com. The article also quotes a Dutch officer who says some key components were replaced with used parts of lower quality before the planes were transferred to Chile. Moreover, to win U.S. approval for the sale, the Dutch had to downgrade key elements of each plane, including the radar, software, and had to remove the hardware to fire AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and anti-radiation missiles. FACh is upgrading all second-hand F-16s, which have already gone through the midlife upgrade, to the Tape 4 standard, which includes capabilities for advanced air-to-air missiles, advanced targeting pods and other electronic upgrades.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Police Bring up Armor Against Indigenous Rebels

Chile's police has been adding armored vehicles in the Araucania region, where it is battling radical Mapuches who have been carrying out a campaign of arson and other attacks. The Carabineros moved in several Mowag 4x4 armored personnel carriers to bolster a force that often has been overmatched in fighting the indigenous group. Now, Panhard PVP vehicles have been added and are in the region, according to Defensa.com. The Carabineros' latest armored vehicle were originally acquired for the Marines and used in the Chilean UN contingent in Haiti. With Chile winding down its commitment in Haiti, the eight Panhards have been reassigned to the national police. Also, at least two Renault Sherpa APCs of the Carabineros special forces unit have been seen in the area, the website said. Chances are, they'll get plenty of use. Attacks, especially arson, have not let up. At least one victim has fired back, literally. A watchman shot one of the men who set fire to trucks and farm equipment.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Sizing up Bolivia as a Potential Enemy

Bolivia is asking the International Court of Justice to grant it access to the Pacific Ocean through Chile, a move that has deepened a historic rift between the two nations. The dispute dates back to the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), which resulted in Chile annexing the coastal territory of Bolivia. The loss has been a sore spot for Bolivians, and the government of Evo Morales has used it as a cause to rally the nation. It's highly doubtful the conflict would lead to war, however. If it came to blows, the fighting would be over quickly: Chile's military dwarfs Bolivia's, which has no credible armor, artillery, air power or even infantry. Indications are that its army doesn't even have enough assault rifles for all its troops. Rather, Bolivia is hoping the Court of Justice delivers a sympathetic ruling and hands it a diplomatic victory. Could Bolivia wage a low-intensity war of sabotage and harassment? That's not likely either, because Bolivia already has an important business presence in the disputed area. Chile argues a 1904 treaty set the border that remains in force today. Bolivia says it signed the treaty under duress. Chile has countered that the International Court has no jurisdiction over treaties so old. The dispute is in large part a battle for public opinion, and La Moneda produced a video that shows how it has already granted Bolivia free access to ports, railroads and other facilities that give that country de facto access to the Pacific. Like other Latin American land disputes, this one will be fought through economic and political means. So don't expect Chilean F-16s to buzz Bolivia anytime soon.