Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bachelet Win Could Mean Big Cuts In Chile's Military Budget

Indications are that Michelle Bachelet will win November's election, making her president of the republic for a second time. Despite her socialist leanings, Chile's armed forces made some major weapons acquisitions during her 2006-2010 term, as the windfall from soaring copper prices allowed Chile to buy used F-16 fighter jets, maritime patrol aircraft and much of the armor that today comprises the army's cavalry units. But a Chilean defense and policy expert doesn't expect Bachelet to do much for defense spending in a second term. Bachelet's administration reinterpreted the military's copper tax (10% of export sales by state-owned mining company Codelco), resulting in a sharp reduction of funds, Daniel Prieto Vial told this blog via e-mail. By doing so, Bachelet deprived the military of its full allowance under the tax and, he says, essentially violated the funding law. Current president Sebastian PiƱera has continued the course, Prieto Vial added. "That's why Chile is starting to fall behind, and Peru -- which has much larger armed forces than Chile's, with sizable reserves -- is starting to quickly pass us in terms of modern equipment." Meanwhile, El Periodista gave a chilling outlook for Chile's military spending if the center-left coalition wins power. Leaders of that coalition have been developing a plan that would cap the weapons budget at about $300 million a year. That's a drastic cut from the more than $500 million that would be budgeted under a planned replacement of the copper tax, which itself has provided upwards of $1 billion annually. The center-left leaders argue that Chile's military strength did nothing to dissuade Peru from challenging its maritime border in the International Court. Instead, they would seek a rapprochement with Peru, making Chile less of a military threat by moving some units away from the northern border. They would also keep Chile's military acquisitions more or less in line with its neighbors', effectively forfeiting Chile's military superiority. The generals are said to be worried.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Training Exercises Claim 3 Soldiers, 2 Others Hurt

It's been a dangerous time in the training fields of Chile's armed forces the past few weeks. On Aug. 14, two airmen somehow fell out of a helicopter, suffering critical injuries after plunging 40 meters to the ground. The Air Force (FACh) says it is investigating the accident, which occurred during a rescue training exercise. News reports say the helicopter touched power lines. Earlier, on July 29, three marines were killed during an underwater exercise. The three were special forces troops training with underwater explosives when the device went off unexpectedly. One of the three was missing for some hours until his body was recovered. Injuries and fatalities are not uncommon in any military organization, although it is a bit unusual for two major accidents to happen so close together.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Three Trends in Chile's Military Acquisitions

As a developing economy, Chile has the freedom to shop for weapons in any nation that produces them. By tracking acquisitions, you can detect some trends that Chile's armed forces and government have been favoring. Bargain prices are a big influence in any procurement decision, but not always. Three tendencies in procurement can be identified:
Buy American. The Army and Air Force continue to pattern themselves after U.S. forces, or as NATO members. The backbone of the Air Force (FACh) is the F-16 squadrons, which are well equipped with U.S.-made mission software, Sidewinder and AMRAAM missiles, and they regularly train with USAF. In the Army, there's more of NATO flavor, with German Leopard 2 and Marder AFVs as front-line armor. This pro-Western stance also means Russia has not been able to penetrate the Chilean market, despite that Chile kicked the tires on Ural trucks, BTR APCs and came close to buying Mi-17 helicopters.
Peacetime use is a plus. No stranger to major disasters, Chile has acquired field hospitals, a major multi-role ship, transport planes and other logistical equipment that can serve in war and peacetime. In a related trend, some recent procurement has gone to its peacekeeping forces.
EADS and Eurocopter prevail. While FACh prefers U.S. weaponry, the Army and Navy more often go with Airbus Military. The Army uses Cougar helicopters, and the Navy its naval variant. The C-295 Persuader is the new maritime patrol aircraft. But Boeing's MD 530 light helicopters are said to be well regarded in the Army as scout helicopters.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Navy Shifts Course on P-3 Orions, Assault Rifles

The Orion lives on
With its P-3 Orions showing considerable wear, the Navy about two years ago started thinking about replacing the maritime patrol aircraft. That seemed even more plausible when Chile started accepting deliveries of the new C-295 Persuaders. But InfoDefensa.com says the Orions will undergo a major upgrade that includes engine overhauls, new wings and the capability to launch Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The program will keep the P3 fleet flying through 2030.  The planes, which were acquired in the early 1990s from U.S. stockpiles, have been periodically updated. Three remain in active patrol service. The article did not mention which company will handle the latest update, but Safe Air of New Zealand has been a primary contractor for Chile's P3 upgrades in the past. Meanwhile, the Navy has selected a different assault rifle for the marines than originally reported. InfoDefensa.com said Chile agreed to go with the SCAR family of infantry weapons, namely the SCAR-L 5.56mm assault rifle, SCAR-H 7.62mm scout rifle and MINIMI machine gun in the 7.62mm version. The initial purchase covers 1,800 rifles and eventually could total 3,500. An earlier deal for the Colt M4 carbine ultimately proved to be not viable, InfoDefensa reported. The SCAR and MINIMI weapons are made by Belgium's FN Herstal. They will replace the marines' current inventory of Heckler & Koch HK33 rifles and Ultimax 100 light machine guns.