Wednesday, May 29, 2013

UPI: Latin American Trainer-Plane Project Stalls

A program by several Latin American countries to develop a basic trainer airplane is going slowly and is not likely to meet a 2015 target date for the first flight, UPI reported. Countries in the Unasur bloc hope to forge defense and security links among themselves. But analysts say the trainer project runs counter to programs in Brazil, which has the region's most advanced aerospace industry. The UPI article notes other complications in building the trainer. Meanwhile, some South American countries continue working with Embraer on the KC-390 tactical transport plane, including Chile.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Submarine that Neared Chilean Fleet Remains a Mystery

Chilean warships conducting naval exercises near Antofagasta detected a submarine from another country May 14 and tracked it until it left their operational area and moved sufficiently away. The Navy says it still doesn't know the origin of the submarine, but it ruled out Peru and Argentina -- the two most likely suspects. A Chilean lawmaker also said the sub did not belong to the U.S. Navy, as was once rumored. The mystery sub made sonar contact with the Armada's warships. Chile took the opportunity to boast of its submarine-detection skills, mentioning that frigates, submarines and aircraft were responsible for the deed. Defense analyst Eduardo Santos told Las Ultimas Noticias he believes the sub was detected by the new Thales 2087 towed array sonar, which was added to Chile's three Type 23 frigates about a year and a half ago. But the incident raises a couple of interesting questions: Was a foreign navy probing Chile's anti-submarine capabilities? Was it mere coincidence that the Navy was conducting full-scale exercises when the foreign sub approached? The mystery sub was found outside Chile's territorial 12-mile ocean limit, but apparently inside the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. It's a historically significant site, where the Peruvian ironclad Huascar was captured during the War of the Pacific. The Pacific Ocean's waters off Chile are particularly tricky for submarine warfare. Currents, varying temperatures and other factors can make for some good hiding places for subs.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Military Sitting on Billions of Unspent Funds

For a couple of years, Chile's government has been moving to end a copper tax used to finance defense acquisitions. But while the lower house has approved the measure, the Senate still hasn't. So, state-owned mining company Codelco continues to feed the military piggy bank, to the tune of $1.27 billion in 2012 and $1.49 billion in 2011. With few major purchases those years, the money is piling up. A German news report quoted in Infodefensa.com said Chile's defense savings total $4.2 billion. The report added that Chile plans to spend $7 billion to $11 billion in defense projects through 2025. It's not clear if the savings include Chile's defense contingency fund, which is believed to total more than $3 billion. But politics have a way of frustrating defense spending, even when there's plenty to go around. The government faces pressure to spend more on education, and reconstruction from the massive 2010 earthquake remains a big project. That has forced President Sebastian PiƱera to rethink some defense acquisitions, according to an analysis by UPI. Public perception of the country's financial management might explain why there's been so few big-ticket weapons purchases since 2011. Chile's military greatly benefited from copper funds over the past decade as the metal's price surged. But there are risks with relying too much on the red metal. The price of copper has slid this year and Codelco's production fell for a second straight year in 2012. Today, copper is much about China's economy, making copper prices vulnerable to slowdowns in the Chinese economy. China accounts for about two-fifths of global demand for copper and Chile supplies about one-third of the world’s copper. There are domestic risks, too, such as mining-labor strikes.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Army Stepping Up Aviation Modernization

AS 532 Cougar
Chile's Army has acquired a medium helicopter, is buying three more and is moving forward with plans to purchase attack helicopters and new fixed-wing aircraft. Three AS 532 Cougar helicopters have been budgeted, while another Cougar (with a cost of $25 million) is due for delivery in a matter of weeks, according to reports in Jane's Defence Weekly. The Cougar already is the backbone of the Army's aviation brigade, and plans are to create an air-mobile brigade with as many as 24 transport helicopters. To that end, Jane's reported the Army is considering the Eurocopter Tiger as a fire-support platform. The Netherlands has offered Chile a dozen used AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. But you can never count out Eurocopter, which has a close relationship with the Chilean military. If Chile opts for attack 'copters, it would probably scuttle a program to acquire light attack helicopters. Plans to replace the CASA-212 and CASA-235 light transport planes have taken on a greater urgency, Jane's said. The magazine reported that the entire transport fleet found itself grounded at a November joint exercise. (Makes you wonder if the lack of parts and maintenance was timed to coincide with the exercise, thus dramatizing the need for new planes.) The Army wants to acquire at least four transport planes. The C27J Spartan and Airbus C-295 are under consideration. Currently, Army aviation operates two C-235s and three C-212s.