Monday, September 17, 2012

Bullet Points: Electronics, Aircraft, Special Forces

Rounding up some loose ends on Chile's Army, Navy and Air Force:
  • The Air Force's F-16 Block 50 fighter jets are getting an upgraded electronic warfare suite. The ALQ-211 Advanced Defensive Electronic Warfare System (AIDEWS), from ITT Exelis, is a next-generation integrated radar warning system. It alerts pilots about radar-based threats, namely surface to air and air to air missiles.
  • The Navy is ready to retire its fleet of  Cessna O-2A Skymaster airplanes. A request for proposals for a similar search and rescue aircraft is being put out next year. A piston-engine, long-endurance plane with easy maintenance is being sought. The venerable Skymaster harkens back to the Vietnam War. Chile acquired about 20 of them from U.S. surplus stockpiles in 1997-2000, although about half were used for spares and reserves.
  • The Army's special forces' equipment is looking much like their U.S. counterparts'. The standard assault rifle is the M4 carbine, with an Aimpoint sighting system. The standard sidearm is the Beretta PX4.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Anti-Gay Memo Roils Army

The Army finds itself in a major controversy after a senior officer urged excluding gays and other groups from the service. A memo from the commander of the 1st Army Division in Antofagasta recommended avoiding recruits "who present health, mental, socioeconomic or criminal problems, drug users, homosexuals, conscientious objectors and Johovah's Witnesses." News of the February-dated memo sparked a fury, prompting a swift rebuke from government leaders and an apology from Army chief Gen. Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba. It may sound odd to find Jehovah's Witnesses among the excluded groups, but church doctrine forbids serving in the military. A church spokesman in Chile said it was a good thing the Army took its beliefs into consideration. It's a different story for gays, who are not barred from serving in Chile's military. Defense Minister Andres Allamand condemned the entire memo and ordered Fuente-Alba to ensure that the Army is free of discrimination against all persons. The Ministry said discrimination is not tolerated under the Army's own doctrine nor under Chile's new anti-discrimination law. This is the worst crisis of Fuente-Alba's command, but his job appears to be safe. Some politicians, though, want the 1st Division commander fired. While the Ministry of Defense is sounding magnanimous, there are limits to what it considers discrimination. For example, married persons, parents and members of any political party cannot become noncommissioned officers. Similar rules apply to Chileans wishing to be professional soldiers or enter other areas of the armed forces. Update: A Chilean gay organization revealed an Air Force document that notes similar objections to gays. The document lists certain psychological grounds for exclusion in FACH, namely "Sexual alterations or perversions: homosexuality, lesbianism, voyeurism and exhibitionism." (Scroll to Articulo 101.)

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.