Sunday, May 29, 2011

Friendly Fire of the Worst Kind

Protesters angry over a controversial energy project turned their aggression against military units on parade for the traditional May 21 celebrations in Chile. In a shameful ambush, protesters started throwing rocks at naval and army cadets, marching bands and other personnel who clearly have nothing to do with the energy project. HidroAysen is a major dam to be built in an ecologically sensitive area of southern Chile. The May 21 attack followed an incident in which a group of police officers, clearly not equipped for a mob, was attacked with Molotov cocktails and assorted objects, leaving one cop in serious condition (see video). The government temporarily banned the use of tear gas to break up rioters, in response to complaints that the gas may cause health hazards. The ban lasted all of three days, as the government announced that studies found the gas to be perfectly safe.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Report: Chile Acquires Hermes 900 UAVs

Chile has agreed to purchase a number of Hermes 900 unmanned aerial vehicles for its military, according to Flight International. Details are still sketchy. Elbit, the Israeli company that makes the Hermes line of UAVs, declined to confirm the deal. Chile's air force and army went with the Hermes 900 over a rival offer for Israel Aerospace Industries' Heron system, the magazine said. The Hermes 900 is one of the beefier UAVs in the market, in a class similar to the U.S.-built Predator drone. The 900 can operate long-range missions using either direct-link or satellite connections to its ground control station. The all-weather UAV has a maximum payload of 300 kg for missions such as infra-red imaging, laser targeting, communications links and electronic warfare. UPDATE: Elbit will supply ground control stations and various payload systems as part of the deal, according to an Israeli business publication. The main role for the Chilean Hermes 900s will be reconnaissance. Elbit's press release mentions a sale to a Latin American customer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Military Budget Revamp Sent to Legislature, Again

President Sebastián Piñera on May 17 sent to Chile's legislature a bill that eliminates the so-called copper law, a funding mechanism that provided the armed forces with billions of dollars from copper sales. In its place, the Ministry of Defense will have a broad 12-year defense-spending budget, subject to revisions under each new four-year presidential administration. Under such long-term strategic plans, the hope is that Chile will reach consensus on military goals. Piñera is basically repeating what former president Michele Bachelet did during her term. Her proposal was never approved. The abandonment of the copper law has its critics. Some believe the timing is bad, given that a leftist politician known for his anti-Chile rhetoric is in a run-off for president of Peru. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mine Removal Going Slowly

Defense officials estimate it will take another eight years to remove thousands of land mines that remain near Chile's border with Peru and Bolivia. The arduous task has already been going on for years, ever since Chile signed on the 1997 Ottawa Treaty on eliminating all land mines. Defense Secretary Andrés Allamand said he expect the mine clearing to take eight more years. He acknowledged the task began slowly but added that it has accelerated in the past five years. Last month, the president of the Chilean Senate said 100,000 antipersonnel mines and 150,000 antitank mines remain buried in the desert, plus some unexploded munitions.The mines were planted in northern border area and the far south of Chile in the late 1970s, when Peru and Argentina threatened war. About 150 people have died after stepping on Chilean mines.