Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Army's Air Cavalry Ambitions

Chile is planning to create an air cavalry brigade, in what would be a new layer of combat capabilities for the Army as it continues its modernization. The unit would count on 800 to 1,200 elite soldiers mobilized by a fleet of 14 to 30 helicopters, according to the online daily El Periodista. The special forces brigade also would have helicopters for fire support, a possible acquisition that resurfaced at the Fidae air show last March. Eurocopter is seen as the likely supplier of both transport and attack helicopters, El Periodista reports, because Army commander Gen. Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba prefers to have a standardized helicopter force, from a single manufacturer. As such, the Tiger advanced attack helicopter is a likely choice, the report adds. An air cavalry brigade was not in the Army's blueprint that resulted in its armored cavalry overhaul. That, plus a lack of named sources, raises doubts about the veracity of the article. But already, Chile is one of several countries negotiating to acquire second-hand Cougar helicopters from the Netherlands. Chile is interested in eight of the copters, which would double a fleet that today includes eight new Cougars purchased a few years ago. Separately, El Periodista said the Army wants to enhance its fixed-wing capabilities and is seriously considering three to five Spartan C27J twin-engine light transport planes. The Army's transport-plane arm is fairly weak, equipped with a pair of C-235 turboprops (a third was lost in a crash) and several CASA C-212 planes. A narrow geography makes it difficult to supply troops at Chile's northern and southern extremities, which means air transport plays a crucial logistical role. The Air Force also doesn't have much cargo capability for the tonnage necessary to supply several battalions engaged in combat.

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