Sunday, October 28, 2012

Air Force Training, Texas Style

Deep in the heart of Texas
A small group of FACH warplanes, pilots and support personnel spent a week training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Three F-16 Block 50 fighter jets flew for exercises with a unit of the Texas Air National Guard. The F-16s flew nonstop from their base in Iquique, refueling in midair with a KC-135 tanker. This is not the first time FACH pilots train with the U.S. Air Force. The two air forces have a long relationship and they share some doctrine and tactics. In fact, Texas-based military personnel visited FACH facilities in June. Mutlinational exercises are valuable because they expose pilots to fresh challenges. It's sort of like scrimmaging with another football team, rather than your own squad. Chile hosts an annual fighter exercise, called Salitre, with several air forces. Crews from Argentina, Brazil, the U.S., France, Uruguay, Canada and Colombia are expected at this year's meet, scheduled for November at the Cerro Moreno air base near Antofagasta.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chile May Join Europe Peacekeeping Missions

Chile is considering adding troops to the European Union's peacekeeping forces. Minister of Defense Andres Allemand and his German counterpart, Christian Schmidt, discussed in Berlin the potential use of Chilean soldiers in multinational operations. Chile would be the first Latin American force to join the EU. Schmidt expressed interest in the experience of Chilean troops, which are serving in the United Nations' Haiti stabilization program. A brigade of about 600 troops has been working in that Caribbean nation for several years. In May, the Chilean Senate authorized to extend the commitment (its largest-ever peacekeeping deployment) for another 12 months. With little threat of war on the horizon, Chile's armed forces have been honing their peacekeeper role. A joint force has been created with Argentina. The acquisition of a multi-role ship last year gave Chile the ability to mobilize an infantry battalion, support vehicles and medical staff over great distances. Its airlift capability is still modest, but the recent acquisition of three KC-135 cargo/tanker planes from U.S. stockpiles gave the military some valuable tonnage. Chile's military these days is equipped pretty much like a NATO member, so integrating its troops with the EU would not be difficult. In another humanitarian effort, Chile has agreed to participate in a regional disaster relief force.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Chile's Floating Hospital

When the Navy acquired an amphibious assault ship last year, it said the vessel would be used for humanitarian as well as military purposes. The Navy is living up to that pledge, deploying the Sargento Aldea on the largest medical relief mission in Chile. More than 75 medical professionals are among a force of 600. An estimated 6,000 people are being treated, which will trim hospital waiting lists in the Aysen region by 30%. Those numbers help illustrate the health crisis in Chile and its shorthanded public hospitals. They also show how the armed forces are much a part of the nation's health care system. The Navy has been a longtime provider of medical care in isolated areas, and the Army's field hospital and medical staff often have been used to help sick civilians, especially the poor. The military has the resources to help out, and such goodwill missions help polish an image of the armed forces that's already fairly positive. The Sargento Aldea has 51 hospital beds, two operating rooms, a dental clinic, an x-ray room and other facilities.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gathering Indicates Chile Has Acquired Advanced Pods

Six air forces that use the RecceLite reconnaissance pod met in Holland recently, and among those in attendance was the Chilean Air Force. The news is fresh evidence that Chile has acquired the pods, which are made by Israel's Rafael Advance Defense Systems. RecceLite provides real-time reconnaissance and data links. The word around aviation circles is that Chile has bought advanced Rafael pods for the FACH's F-16 fleet. Earlier, photographs of Chilean F-16s showed a targeting pod that appeared to be the Litening. The Litening and RecceLite resemble each other, and it's possible FACH is using both types. FACH has never publicly acknowledged having targeting or reconnaissance pods. Because they are not weapons, per se, they are not disclosed in the UN arms exports reports.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Proposed Budget Boosts Police, Border Security

President Sebastian PiƱera's 2013 budget seeks 2,000 more police officers and 200 additional investigations officers in hopes of reducing Chile's crime problem. The Carabineros police force today counts with 44,500 men and women, and they are a busy bunch: According to Carabineros' 2011 annual report, more than half a million persons were arrested that year in Chile (population 17 million). The budget also expands forensic capabilities and crime-prevention programs. The budget, which totals more than $60 billion, also devotes funds specifically for Plan Frontera Norte, an effort to control drug trafficking and illegal immigration along the Peru and Bolivia borders. Indeed, the drug trade and related crime is one of Chile's main security problems.The budget has been sent to Congress, which must pass a final bill by the end of November. Update: The budget for the Ministry of Defense will be $2.77 billion in 2013. That represents an increase of 2% over the 2012 outlay.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Is the End Nigh for Chile's Aerospace Company?

The Air Force is considering shutting down its aerospace business, which is heavily in debt and unable to forge international partnerships. FACh commander Gen. Jorge Rojas has ordered a study into shutting down Empresa Nacional de Aeronautica, or Enaer, the online newspaper El Periodista reported. The move came after a planned alliance with EADS/Airbus Military became frustrated in legal entanglements. If Enaer is closed, about 800 workers would be affected, although one-third of them would staff up a new Air Force wing that would take over aviation maintenance duties. No doubt, the demise of Enaer would be a blow to Chile's aerospace aspirations. The company, which is about $60 million in debt today, was responsible for one of Chile's most successful military exports, the Pillan T-35 basic trainer. Its plants have refurbished C-130 Hercules for various air forces. The end of Enaer raises other serious questions. For example, the company was supposed to have a role in the development and construction of Embraer's C-390 transport, as part of Chile's plan to acquire several of the planes. Would Chile be forced out of the program? And how does the failed EADS deal affect the Navy's and Army's own plans for foreign alliances?