Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chile Passes on 2nd Multirole Ship, Retires Missile Boats

The Navy has retired its Type 148 Tiger missile boats, which had been stationed in the northern naval base in Iquique. Two had already been deleted and the remaining two were retired Dec. 15, according to InfoDefensa. Although the Navy made no formal announcement, its website no longer lists the Tiger Type 148s in its fleet. The missile boats had limited range and endurance, but served as capable coastal defense units with their four Exocet anti-ship missiles and 76mm gun. The boats were acquired second-hand from Germany in 1997. There are no plans to replace them, InfoDefensa says. That would make it three Navy vessels retired from service in two months, including the pending deletion of the submarine tender Almirante Merino in January. Moreover, the government decided not to acquire a second multirole ship. The Navy had sought the sister ship of the ex-French Foudre, which Chile acquired in 2011. But the government cited the high cost and questioned the need for another such vessel, despite that Chile's ship has served a valuable relief role in natural disasters and as an auxiliary hospital. Indeed, InfoDefensa notes that the vast modernization of Chile's military is drawing to an end. The Army and Air Force have shelved plans to acquire medium transport aircraft, and FACh also is putting off the acquisition of higher-performance helicopters. The government still wants to end the tax on Codelco's sales to finance defense deals, and it has left funds from that tax unspent. Even while the budget proposal remains stuck in Congress, the fact remains that military acquisitions have slowed sharply in the past few years.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chile's Military Tries to Bury its Junta Legacy

Long ago, Chile's armed forces moved on from their past as the country's rulers. Now, they seem to be wiping away any remaining memories of that era. The Army deleted the name of Gen. Agusto Pinochet from a medal. The Navy is retiring in January a submarine tender that was named after Adm. José Toribio Merino Castro, the Navy chief who was part of the junta that overthrew President Salvador Allende in 1973. Don't expect another ship to bear that name in the future, said Defense Minister Jorge Burgos. There's been public pressure to eliminate reminders of the junta from other places, such as street names. Burgos denied that the retirement of the sub tender had anything to do with politics. As far as the impact on the Navy goes, there are no plans to acquire a replacement, and other vessels such as offshore patrol boats or the multirole ship Sargento Aldea will take over its role. Tenders are used to resupply submarines out at sea and to give the sub crews some breathing space. The Almirante Merino was acquired from Sweden in 1997. It was launched in 1969, originally built as a mine layer.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

How to be a Professional Soldier in Chile

The Army is putting out its annual call for young men who want to become professional soldiers. It's a five-year commitment, with not only a paycheck but the opportunity to learn a trade, get free housing and health care and, after three years, the chance to apply to become a noncommissioned officer. With unemployment among young adults running high in Chile, the 7,000 openings are likely to fill up. But there are stringent (if not curious) requirements. Women cannot apply for the program, although they can enlist and even become officers under other programs. Applicants must be single, have no children, be 18 to 25 years old and be in good health. In addition, applicants must pass a physical, a mental evaluation, a 2,400-meter run and pass other tests. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

What Chile's Military is Buying from the U.S.

Although Chile has little transparency in military expenditures, there are plenty of details publicly available from U.S. defense agencies that provide arms to allied nations. The database of the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency is particularly enlightening. It is packed with information about every request and delivery of surplus equipment sent to Chile in the past 20 years. The database is not complete, however. For example, it shows only one KC-135 tanker aircraft delivered to Chile, when in fact three have been transferred. It doesn't show the delivery of the former USS Higgins tanker ship. It's also unclear if the costs shown are actual figures because transfers often are made at discounted prices. Here are some of the most noteworthy items from the database:

  • Of 24 M109A5 self-propelled howitzers requested, half are shown as delivered.
  • Chile last year requested antennas and other equipment for the APG-66 radar (used in the F-16 fighter) but no deliveries are registered.
  • A total of 44 M163A2 Vulcan self-propelled anti-aircraft cannon and 66 M167A2 towed Vulcan systems were delivered in 1998.
  • A KC-130R Hercules tanker plane was sought in 2012 but not delivered.
  • Most transfers occurred in the 1990s, much less in the decades that followed.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Chile OK's Construction of 4th Off-Shore Patrol Vessel

Marinero Fuentealba
The Navy will build a fourth off-shore patrol vessel, just as the third was launched. Defense Minister Jorge Burgos confirmed the acquisition Nov. 6, noting that will be the fourth OPV in a program that envisions as many as five such vessels. Two of the Fassmer OPV 80-class boats are already in service. The third was launched the same day of Burgos' announcement. The Marinero Fuentealba is a bit different than its sister ships, sporting a larger 76mm gun and a reinforced hull for operation in the icy waters of the south of Chile. OPV 81 Piloto Pardo went into service in 2007 and OPV 82 Comandante Toro in 2009. With a crew of 32 and endurance of up to 30 days, the 1,700-ton ships are an efficient way for Chile's Navy to cover its extensive territorial waters. Each also has equipment for environmental and search and rescue missions. The program has been one of the most successful for Asmar, the Navy-operated shipyard that is getting back on its feet after getting decimated in the February 2010 tsunami.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Final Assembly of Army's Galil Rifles Being Done in Chile


Final assembly of the Army's new Galil ACE 22 AC assault rifles will be at the Famae armament company in Chile. Famae, which is controled by the Chilean Army, also will manufacture some parts, including the barrel and gas tube. In addition, it will assemble some subcomponents, such as the sights, buttstock and grip. Those details were revealed in an Army magazine article that also said the manufacturing process of each rifle will begin in Israel. The Galil ACE was designed by Israel Weapon Industries, which has been making the Galil family of rifles for decades. The ACE weighs about seven pounds, fires a 5.56mm round and has a long Picatinny rail for accessories. The Galil ACE replaces the Army's SIG-540, a dependable but sorely outdated rifle.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Salitre Wargames Bring Together 5 Air Forces

All the way from the Lone Star State
The annual Salitre wargames, a multinational exercise to improve cooperation among Chilean and U.S. allies, have ended. The Oct. 6-17 training program in the Cerro Moreno air base brought air crews from five nations. Chile had on hand F-16 MLU, F-16 Block 50, F-5 Tigre III, one KC-135 tanker and a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. Argentina brought its A-4AR Fightinghawk; Brazil had its F-5EM. Uruguay, joining Salitre for the first time, flew A-37 B Dragonfly. The U.S. participated with a half-dozen F-16 from the 149th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard. U.S. units often train with the Chilean Air Force, which shares a lot in common in terms of equipment and doctrine. Training against pilots from other air forces is always a worthwhile endeavor. It's like scrimmaging against an opposing team rather than against your own teammates. Don't expect to find details of simulated shoot-downs or anything else about pilot performance. But the public can find plenty of photos and videos of the fighter jets in all their glamour.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Meanwhile in Araucania, More Bloodshed

While Chile's attention was focused on the bombings in the metropolitan area, the indigenous uprising in the south has suddenly become more violent. More than a dozen police officers were wounded in gun battles with masked gunmen the morning of Oct. 4. At least one of the gunmen was wounded, and is one of two people held in the attack. The shootings were part of a wave of violence in which masked gangs have blocked highways and set fire to commercial trucks. It's been a sharp escalation, and one that appears to have been fanned by the death of a Mapuche demonstrator run over by a tractor. Carabineros have sent in a new wave of reinforcements, this time with armored vehicles. The long conflict with Mapuche extremists shows no sign of abating, and it exposes an imbalance in the country's security system: While the military is well equipped and funded, the police lack sufficient resources to deal effectively with internal security problems.

Friday, September 19, 2014

3 Held in Connection with Subway Bombings

Police arrested two men and a woman in a Santiago neighborhood and charged them with two subway bombings this year, the most alarming attacks in a wave of blasts that has rattled the metropolitan area. The three, all in their 20s, are said to be members of the Lautaro anarchist group. One of them was on probation from a robbery conviction. Carabineros are still seeking two others who eluded the Sept 18. raid. The arrests marked a breakthrough for investigators, who had been unable to crack down on about 30 bombings this year. Police say they found gunpowder and other bomb-making materials with the suspects.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Subway Bombing Shatters Calm in Chile

The rash of bombings sweeping Chile took a frightening turn after an explosive blew up in a subway station, leaving as many as 14 people hurt. The Sept. 8 blast was far more serious than earlier explosions because it caused many casualties, and it took place in the middle of a crowded area. The bomb was left inside a trash can in a shopping and dining area of a subway station in the upscale Las Condes neighborhood of Santiago. The government said it will apply the anti-terrorism law to investigate the bombing, which grants police special powers, such as holding suspects without formal charges. As they denounced the attack, officials also sought to reassure a public that now feels much less secure. The government also is worried that its image as a safe country, which has encouraged foreign investment and tourism, has taken a damaging blow. Chileans have another reason to feel less secure. Despite some 30 bombings this year, investigators have no suspects and few clues. Chile's intelligence community was stripped of most of its powers after the end of military rule, but now it seems inadequate to deal with terrorism. Police searching for the bombers are barred from using phone taps, infiltration and some other intelligence methods. Investigators are not even sure if multiple anarchist groups are involved, or if it's the same ones going by different names. Nearly 200 bombings or attempted bombings have occurred in Chile since 2005, yet only two suspects have ever been convicted. One of them was an unlucky bomber whose explosive blew up on him. If you happen to live in Santiago, there's reason to be worried about your police's effectiveness. Update: After some anarchist cells denied responsibility for the subway bombing, one group took responsibility on its website. A group called CCF said the first subway bombing was designed to occur at an hour when no persons would be injured. It added that it gave police advance warning of the Sept. 8 blast, and that it did not intend to harm anyone. But the warning, if true, came only 10 minutes before the explosion, which would not leave much time at all to evacuate the area.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Chile's Army Hits the Big Screen

A short film about the Army and its role in Chilean society will be shown in theaters in Chile. The seven-minute movie, set to run in 75 screens nationwide, is also a recruitment tool, says Army chief Gen. Humberto Oviedo. The film (a short version is on Vimeo) includes images of Army personnel providing medical aid, mine-clearing, peacekeeping and, of course, shooting off lots of guns. The Army hasn't had a shortage of volunteers, so the project is a bit curious, unless its aim is to reach out broadly to citizens. The Army has produced promotional videos before, but this is the first time it is going to the big screen. On You Tube, there are dozens of amateur videos about Chile's armed forces, most of them big on bravado and low on quality. But there is one video I found that stands out for its cinematic quality. The video seems to have been produced independently. The country's military service administration has come out with its own recruitment video, and it did a good job with it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Army Requests Details on Transport Planes

The Army sent out requests in May to various aircraft manufacturers for details on medium transport airplanes, an initial step in the purchase of new aircraft. The manufacturers have responded, and each model is now being evaluated, according to a report in Diario Financiero. The request for information marked the first concrete step toward the planned purchase of at least four medium transports. Airbus and Alenia were among the companies contacted. Alenia builds the Spartan C27J while Airbus makes the rival C-295. The Army asked for details on each model's medical, firefighting, paratroop and other configurations, the report said. The C-212 light transports have been retired, leaving just a couple of C-235 planes in the Army fleet.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bombings Damaging Nerves, Chile's Reputation

Chile's government is worried its reputation as a safe country is being damaged by the recent wave of bombings in the Santiago metropolitan area. A number of bomb threats also is putting people on edge. The U.S., Canada U.K., Australia and Belgium have warned their citizens about the danger of terrorist bombs in Chile. That prompted Chile's top law enforcement official to try to calm foreigners' fears, telling reporters that Chile is a country where visitors don't need to be fearful, and that a massive hunt is on for the bombers. Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo cited Chile's relatively low homicide rate and a coordinated effort to identify suspects. A special prosecutor was appointed. Nearly 30 bombs or incendiary devices have detonated so far this year.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Chile's New Security Problem: A Wave of Bombings

Chile's security forces have a new problem on their hands. So far this year, 15 bombs have detonated in a terror campaign striking the metropolitan area. The Santiago subway was bombed last month, although the device went off after the final stop of the night. A subway worker spotted a suspicious backpack, and the explosive in it detonated before the bomb squad arrived. Investigators have linked the wave of bombings to anarchists avenging the conviction of three of their members and the arrest of two others in Spain. Pamphlets left at church bombing specifically mentioned the Spanish case. The blasts, police say, show that anarchist cells that were believed to be dormant are back in operation. Anarchists also took responsibility for a string of car fires in Santiago and Vina Del Mar. The bombings seem to have reawakened a long terror campaign that resulted in more than 140 explosions from 2006 to 2012 targeting banks, multinational companies and other establishments. Thankfully, most of the bombs then and now were relatively small and there were no mass casualties. But just like in the Mapuche conflict, police have been frustrated in finding the perpetrators and getting convictions. Sloppy crime-scene work and burdensome evidence rules are some of the problems vexing authorities.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Submarine, Frigate Collide During Exercises

The wounded SS Carrera
Two of the Navy's newest ships were damaged when they collided against each other during a training exercise. No one was hurt, but the FF Almirante Condell and SS Carrera sustained structural damage. The sub's turret and the frigate's stern were damaged. Both boats sailed to the Asmar repair yard under their own power, reports said. The Navy is investigating the collision, which occurred early July 18 about 30 nautical miles off the port of Valparaiso. The accident leaves two important assets out of service and a black eye for its commanders. A congressional panel says it will investigate. The Condell, a Type 23 frigate, was acquired from the British Royal Navy, where it was named HMS Marlborough, and handed over to Chile in 2008. The Carrera is a Scorpene class submarine delivered in 2005. Update: Defense Minister Jorge Burgos said Aug. 13 the submarine and the frigate will be repaired and back in service by the end of the year. Both sustained "considerable" damage, Burgos added.

Monday, July 14, 2014

British Officer's Book Reveals 'Crucial' Chilean Role in Falklands

The secret assistance Chile gave the British in the Falklands War is no longer a secret. Years ago, retired Chilean Air Force Gen. Fernando Matthei revealed details on how Chile provided intelligence that helped the British win the 1982 war. Now, the main British figure in that alliance has written a book describing the secret program in greater detail. Sidney Edwards, an RAF officer, was the man sent to link up with Chilean military and set up the intelligence network. In 1978, Chile and Argentina were on the brink of war over three disputed islands at the tip of South America. So, London found a willing ally in Chile. Edwards says without Chile's help, Britain may have lost the war. From radar stations in Punta Arenas, Edwards could monitor Argentine air traffic and relay those movements to London. This allowed the British to preserve valuable air-defense resources. The radar monitoring, Edwards says, was "crucial" in winning the war. After the war, Chile was thanked with British jets and other military equipment. Ironically, the Chilean leader who approved the Edwards operation, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, was arrested and held in England for a year and a half on human rights charges brought by a Spanish judge.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Politicians Urge Acquisition of New Presidential Jet

A Boeing 737-500 jet that has been the presidential aircraft since 1997 suffers from a short operating range, and that alone may be enough to get Chile to look for a VIP plane with longer range. The daily El Mercurio reported that a group of executives and government officials came back from a trip to Washington, D.C., exhausted from a flight that took 14 hours and two refueling stops. The 737 has adequate range for flights within South America, but no farther. The Air Force (FACh) has a Boeing 767 that can make the Santiago-U.S. trip nonstop, but it is not for exclusive presidential use and it may end up being sold. Another 737 has been converted for cargo. The fact that politicians want a new long-range transport makes it all the more possible that one will be purchased; they have most of the purse-strings to make it happen. But will it play in Peoria, or Peñalolén, shall we say? Spending upwards of $100 million on a VIP jet may not sit well with a citizenry that can point to health care, crime and education as bigger needs.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chile Ranks High in Peacefulness, Relatively Speaking

The latest edition of the Global Peace Index puts Chile as the second most peaceful nation in South America and 30th in the world. Only Uruguay scored better in the continent. The results might well reflect the overall security situation in Chile, at least compared with the rebel wars in Colombia and Peru. But Chile is a far less peaceful place for Santiago residents who have endured more than their fair share of violent street protests, and for those in the Araucania region, where Mapuche extremists continue a rebellion to reclaim ancestral lands. This month, a landowner was shot to death and homes were set on fire in Araucania. A house linked to a Mapuche leader was set ablaze, indicating that activists are being targeted, too. The national police and the government seems helpless to curb the violence, even after reinforcing the Carabineros. Although crime is a pervasive problem, the street protests and the Mapuche conflict are the most pesky security problems in the country, and neither seems likely to abate anytime soon.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Five Key Points from the President's Defense Plan


President Michelle Bachelet released an accounting of major defense policies, which was part of her report to Congress on the state of the nation. Here are the most interesting points:
  • Several steps are being taken to solidify Chile's sovereignty in Antartica, including adding resources to the bases in that territory. The Navy's current icebreaker, due to be retired next year, will remain in service until 2020, when a new ship should be ready. The government-owned Asmar shipyard is capable of building the ship at a cost of $160 million, the document states.
  • Electronic reconnaissance assets will be combined into an integrated system for all armed services. Electronic warfare, UAV, intelligence, satellite and cyberwarfare units will come under the umbrella of the new system.
  • Chile continues to forge military ties with some Central American nations. Under a program started last year and financed by Canada, Chile has been transferring know-how to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, specifically for peacekeeping missions and disaster and humanitarian aid. As part of the exchange, troops from El Salvador and Honduras have joined Chile's peacekeeping battalion in Haiti. Separately, Bachelet praised military cooperation with Argentina and urged closer ties with Peru.
  • For the Air Force, Bachelet cites a requirement to acquire advanced jet trainers "in the coming years," but doesn't spell out any specifics. A capitalization plan for its financially troubled Enaer aerospace company has been worked out, but figures weren't given.
  • The mine-clearing work is not even halfway done. At the end of 2013, 42.3% of landmines had been destroyed. That's 19 minefields, 3.68 million square meters, 52,563 antipersonnel mines and 25,963 antitank mines.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Chile Taking Steps to Better Integrate Gays into the Military

Chile's Minister of Defense, Jorge Burgos, is starting a round of meetings with the heads of the armed forces to formalize the inclusion of gays in the military. The goal is to come up with antidiscrimination policies and procedures to handle complaints. Gays and lesbians are already allowed to serve in Chile's military. But the ministry wants to eliminate subtle ways in which discrimination can still occur. For example, officers can ask a prospective recruit questions that could indirectly reveal his or her sexual preference. The minister's roundtable comes at a time when the government of President Michelle Bachelet is pressing a controversial social agenda that includes legalizing abortions in some cases and letting gays adopt children.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Government May Raid Military Funds to Raise Revenue

More than $5 billion in surplus funds for Chile's military could be used to shore up tight government revenues. The finance ministry says that's one alternative under discussion, which could be blended with a proposal to revamp the defense budget, El Mercurio reported. By raiding military funds, the government would strike another blow into a financing mechanism that grants the armed forces with more than $1 billion a year. For decades, 10% of export sales by the government-owned Codelco mining company has been assigned for weapons acquisitions. The so-called copper law has provided the money to buy F-16 fighters, modern warships, Leopard 2 tanks and other major weapons systems. The sum started growing sharply in 2004 as the price of copper boomed. For a country of Chile's size, that's a bountiful pot of money, but not all of it reaches its intended purpose. Under an interpretation of the copper law made some years ago, any surplus above the minimum allocation ($220 million for each service) was taken away from the military and left in the hands of the finance ministry. Then in 2011, as the surplus from the copper tax continued swelling, the money was placed in a sovereign wealth fund. That surplus has climbed to more than $5 billion, not including capital appreciation, according to analysts quoted by El Mercurio. Minister of Defense Jorge Burgos insists the budget proposal wouldn't harm Chile's defense needs, or that it would leave projects vulnerable to political bickering. The new plan wouldn't be the first time Codelco funds are used for non-defense needs: In 2010, $614 million was tapped for post-earthquake reconstruction. The new government of President Michelle Bachelet plans to introduce legislation in the second quarter that would eliminate the copper tax entirely and replace it with four-year spending programs passed by Congress. Similar legislation stalled and eventually died in the previous two presidential administrations.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Chile Looks to Reduce its Forces in Haiti

Heading home?
Chile's government agreed to extend its peacekeeping force in Haiti for at least one more year, but it sent out a message that is commitment should start to wind down. President Michelle Bachelet said 2014 and 2015 should be viewed as a period of "preparation for the substantial and programmed withdrawal" of military personnel in Haiti. Already, Chile trimmed its Haiti troops to 426 from 479 the prior year. Its desire for a smaller footprint in Haiti isn't new. In 2011, Chile announced a measured withdrawal. Chile is one of 20 countries providing military personnel to the UN MINUSTAH stabilizing force, which has a total strength of nearly 8,000 soldiers and police. Chile, which has served in MINUSTAH since 2004, spends $26 million a year in personnel costs plus $15 million for operating costs for the mission. Last year, the UN reimbursed $16 million, according to El Mercurio. Haiti has been Chile's largest peacekeeping commitment, and Chilean commanders consider it an important way to gain the type of training that would not be possible in their regiments. Chile's 10-year mission has consisted mainly of support services, such as policing, escorts and medical assistance. The Air Force (FACh) operates a squadron of four UH-1H helicopters for assorted transportation needs. Chilean casualties have been minimal and none from combat. In 2013, the UN made a 20% cut in MINUSTAH forces. But as the mission evolves into nation-building, the UN has no timetable for a complete withdrawal. Still, MINUSTAH's leaders also have expressed a desire to exit the impoverished Caribbean nation.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Navy's Wish List: Icebreaker, Helicopters, Light Aircraft

AP 46 Almirante Viel
In an interview with El Mercurio, the Navy's new commander said he is satisfied with the size and capabilites of Chile's fleet, but he has four acquisition programs in his sights. Chile's only icebreaker, the 45-year-old Almirante Viel, is due to be retired soon, and a replacement has become a priority as Chile reinforces its sovereignty in the Antartic region. Adm. Enrique Larrañaga also said the Navy plans to replace its Skymaster light maritime patrol planes with seven new aircraft. Two more Super Puma helicopters are planned, as well as replacements for the oldest light helicopters in the fleet. The Navy has three remaining Bo-105 helicopters, a model that is being replaced with the Eurocopter Dauphin. The admiral said those procurement projects will span the next four years, which basically covers his term as head of the Navy. Interestingly, he did not mention another multi-role ship as a priority, even as he praised the current multi-role ship, the LSDH Sargento Aldea, for its relief work after the April 1 earthquake in the north of Chile. Reports have linked Chile to the possible sale by France of the Siroco, the sister ship of the Sargento Aldea.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Another F-16 Crash-Lands as Landing Gear Fails

For the second time in five months, an Air Force F-16 has crash landed. The latest accident occurred when a landing gear failure forced an emergency landing at the air base in Antofagasta. In October, another F-16 crash-landed when a tire blew on takeoff. And in March 2012, an F-16 had another landing-gear problem, resulting in a belly landing. All three mishaps involved the F-16 MLU (Mid-Life Upgrade) version, bought second-hand from the Netherlands, and all occurred at the same air base. Landing gear problems have been known to trouble the F-16 fleet, especially the older planes such as the MLUs. But the damage from a belly landing is fixable, and there's been no losses yet among the 46 F-16s that FACh operates. But it is a problem that has affected just the MLUs, at least in recent memory. And whenever an air force shares a runway with a civilian airport, as is the case with all Chilean air force bases, problems spill over to airline operations. This month's accident caused a four-hour runway closure that delayed a few flights.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What to Make of Russia's Courting of Chile's Military

Leave it to Chile to warm up to Russia at a time when the West is cooling on Moscow. In the middle of the Ukraine crisis, Russian Foreign Minister Serguei Lavrov visited Chile, where his Chilean counterpart said the two countries plan to strengthen military ties. There's never been much of a military alliance between the two countries. Chile buys most of its weapons from western countries and has integrated itself well with NATO forces. Meanwhile, Russia's efforts to sell arms to Chile keep getting frustrated. In 2009, Chile's Air Force agreed to acquire five Mi-17 transport helicopters from Rosoboronexport, what would have been the first Chilean purchase of Russian equipment. But U.S. officials pressured Chile to back away from the $80 million purchase and to go with the U.S.-made (and much more expensive) Sikorsky Black Hawk instead. Eventually, Chile yielded and Peru ended up buying the five helicopters, though it never went forward with the Black Hawks. The crash of an Mi-17 during a demonstration flight at the 2002 Fidae air show didn't help Russia's marketing, either. But now, Chile is listening to Russia again. At this year's Fidae, talks restarted on a helicopter deal. The Army seems settled on Eurocopter's Cougar, but FACh is looking to add airlift capabilities. Despite the 2002 crash, FACh was satisfied with the Mi-17, which now looms as Russia's best chance to break into the Chilean market.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Rocket Program Puts Lesser-Known Company in Spotlight

While the Army's armaments manufacturer and Israel Military Industries are the main developers of Chile's new multiple launch rocket system, a third company is playing a key role in the program. Desarrollos de Automatizacion (DESA) is providing the fire control system for the SLM Famae. Unlike the other major defense companies in Chile, DESA is a private firm, and it's been involved in a number of electronic upgrades for the Army and Navy for more than 20 years. DESA started out in 1993, when it won a contract for a fire-control system for the Navy's SAAR-3 missile boats. Since then, it has built integrated combat, command and control, artillery fire direction and other systems. It also upgraded the Goalkeeper Close-In Weapon System used in some of Chile's frigates. Web searches turn up little about the company, yet its resume makes DESA perhaps the most advanced military contractor in Chile. Now, it has a stake in the country's top weapons program. The SLM Famae is a truck-mounted launcher that can accommodate any type of artillery rocket. Using rockets developed by IMI, the SLM Famae can hit targets 10 km to 150 km away within a 10-meter circle of error. DESA's fire-control system was practically tailor-made for the SLM Famae, a company executive told Defense News, but it can be used on any artillery rocket or self-propelled howitzer system.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Army, Marines Upgrade their Standard Rifles

Ironically, one of the last steps in Chile's long military modernization involves the most basic weapon: the standard infantry rifle. The Army and Marines are replacing their assault rifles with new models from Belgium and Israel. The Marines decided on the SCAR family, specifically the SCAR-L 5.56 mm assault rifle, SCAR-H 7.62 mm scout rifle and 7.62 mm version of the MINIMI machine gun. The SCAR-L, made by FN Herstal of Belgium, was designed for U.S. SOCOM as a versatile weapon that comes with a standard 14.5-inch barrel but can be switched to a 10-inch barrel in five minutes. The SCARs, which replace the Hecker & Koch HK33SG1 rifles, won out over the Colt M-4 carbine for an order of up to 3,500 guns. The Marines are already using their new SCAR rifles, as images from their deployments in April's two disaster zones have shown. The Army, reports say, has chosen the Galil ACE from Israel Weapon Industries. The 5.56 mm rifle is known for being a reliable weapon that's easy to maintain and operate. The ACE beat out the SIG Sauer 556 carbine, which reportedly did not perform well in Chile's desert. The Swiss arms maker has long relationship with Chile: The Army's Famae armaments company has been making the SIG 510 and 540 models for decades and it is the current standard Army rifle. The HK33 and the SIG 510/540 are fine weapons, but they are old designs that lack some modern features such as adjustable buttstocks. At last month's FIDAE air show, Famae introduced its own design of an assault rifle with Picatinny rails and other improvements. The SCAR and ACE make Chile's infantry better integrated with U.S. and western forces, a strategy Chile has followed in most of its upgrade programs. The acquisitions come far into Chile's military modernization, but rifle technology hasn't changed that much, which could explain why armor, UAVs and other systems had priority.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Military's Medical Corps, Troops Responding to Disasters

The multi-role ship Sargento Aldea is docked in Iquique, conducting dozens of operations and other medical treatments. The city's main hospital was damaged in the April 1 earthquake, and the ship's medical facilities are picking up the slack. Civilian and Navy doctors have performed 27 surgeries on the ship, of both earthquake victims and patients who were forced off the hospital. This is the first time the Sargento Aldea is used as a floating hospital to handle a natural disaster, and it's precisely how Chile envisioned using it when it acquired the vessel from France in 2011. The Army has deployed a field hospital, which has treated more than 300 victims, delivered 45 newborns and operated on 22 patients. The armed forces continue to patrol the region and the port city of Valparaiso, where a wildfire burned hundreds of homes. FACh, for example, took its anti-aircraft and special forces troops to handle security, medical and emergency-shelter operations. Troops are patrolling the fire and earthquake zones under a special constitutional provision that lets the president send out the military to the streets during natural disasters. In the first several weeks of her new term, President Michelle Bachelet has invoked the so-called State of Constitutional Exception for Catastrophes twice already. The special rule also lets the president appoint military commanders to take control of stricken communities.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

After Long Delay, New Off-Shore Patrol Vessel is Launched

OPV Marinero Fuentealba
The Asmar shipyard has launched the Navy's newest off-shore patrol vessel. OPV 83 Marinero Fuentealba is scheduled for delivery by the end of the year. The ship, based on the German Fassmer OPV 80 design, displaces 1,771 tons and can sail for up to 30 days, with a range of 8,000 nautical miles. Its maximum speed is 20 knots. A hangar and landing pad can accommodate a light helicopter. The Fuentealba is the third of five off-shore patrol vessels Chile is building. The first two were delivered in 2007 and 2009, but the third ship was delayed as Asmar rebuilt its shipyard after the February 2010 earthquake and tsunami. In fact, this is Asmar's first new construction since that devastating disaster. The Fuentealba has a larger 76mm Oto Melara gun than its sister ships (which have 40 mm guns), and a reinforced hull for operations in the cold waters around its future base in Punta Arenas. The OPVs are used to guard territorial waters, provide assistance, protect the marine environment and conduct search and rescue missions.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Military Deployment for Earthquake Far Quicker Than in 2010

 Earthquake patrol duty, once more
The armed forces have fanned out across the north of Chile to help maintain security and provide assistance after the April 1 earthquake. Army, Air Force and Marine patrols have been stationed in supermarkets, gasoline stations and neighborhoods. The Air Force (FACh) flew more than 35 tons of relief equipment, using a pair of C-130 Hercules and two KC-135 transport planes. The military's quick deployment was a far cry from the February 2010 earthquake, when President Michelle Bachelet took two days to send out the troops, and only after looting had become widespread. This time, she had soldiers out in a matter of hours, and military commanders were given authority over the three regions most affected by the quake. Coordination among the armed forces, police and the national emergency service seems to have gone smoothly. Most Chilean communities absorbed the 8.2-magnitude quake well enough, so there was no opportunity for the armed forces to use their field hospitals. The Army's 2nd Armored Brigade in Iquique did set up a medical treatment center. The Navy had enough time to move all its ships out of port before the tsunami struck, although the waves turned out to be moderate. The multirole ship Aldea had to be hustled out of a repair yard but still made it out to sea. In the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, the naval base and shipyard in Talcahuano suffered extensive damage.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

FIDAE Update: Aircraft Upgrades, New Rocket System, Galils and Cougars for Army

The FIDAE air show is going on in Santiago this week, and several upgrade programs and acquisitions have been announced, many of them for the Army:
  • The Army has finally decided on a new standard assault rifle: the Galil ACE 5.56 mm built by Israel Weapon Industries. The Galil rifles will be assembled by the Army-operated Famae armament company, which also will manufacture some of the parts.
  • Famae introduced a mobile multiple launch rocket system. The SLM has been developed with Israel's IMI, which makes the Lynx MLRS. The project is a surprise for Famae, which developed an MLRS with Britain's Royal Ordnance more than 10 years ago, only to abandon it for lack of demand.
  • The Army accepted delivery of the first Cougar AS532 ALe, the newest version of Eurocopter's medium helicopter. Defense News reported the Army could receive at least 20 AS532 helicopters under current plans. The report is a sign the Army has finalized plans to bolster its airlift capabilities, including the formation of a new air cavalry brigade. The older Puma and Super Puma helicopters are being removed from service.
  • U.S.-based Merex Group has signed an contract to rebuild the wings of the F-5 Tiger III fighter planes operated by FACh. Air Force-owned Enaer will be a partner in the project. The program indicates that FACh will not be retiring the F-5 squadron any time soon, as had been speculated.
  • Airbus and Enaer are expanding their cooperation agreement to include maintenance of Airbus-built transport planes, including the C-295 and C-212. Under the new agreement, Airbus will provide additional support for maintenance and a potential upgrade of the FACh T-36 and A-36 Halcon trainers and light-attack aircraft. Chile's Army and Navy have retired their C-212 planes, but FACh still operates a few. Other South American countries also have C-212s.
  • Russia, which has never made a military sale in Chile, is campaigning to end the dryspell. Rosoboronexport is renewing negotiations for the sale of helicopters to Chile. Talks on a potential purchase ended in February 2010, when the earthquake and tsunami forced Chile to change its fiscal priorities, according to Rianovosti.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Article Details Chile's Military Aircraft

A Defensa.com article on Chile's aviation assets provides a few updates. One is that the Navy has retired the C 212-100 light transport planes and the Cessna O-2 Skymaster light patrol aircraft. The Army also has retired its C 212 planes. And the Air Force (FACh) may be doing yet another update to its aged F-5 fighter planes. More valuable, though, is the breakdown of the aviation fleets of the Air Force, Army and Navy. Here's the FACh order or battle, which agrees with other reports about the FACh inventory. Check the link above for the Army and Navy tables.

Combat aircraft
10 F-16 Block 50
36 F-16 AM/BM MLU
13 AT-36 Toqui II
12 F-5 E/F Tiger III

Transport and reconnaissance
3 KC-135 E Stratotanker
1 737-300
1 737-58N
1 767-300ER
3 C-130 B/H
13 DHC-6
3 C212-200, -300
1 A100 King Air
1 Super King Air
2 Learjet 35A
1 Gulfstream IV
7 PA-28-236

Training
24 T-35 Pillan
4 Citation CJ1
12 A-29 Super Tucano
6 AT-36 Halcón
2 Cirrus SR-22T

Airborne early warning and electronic warfare
1 707-385C Cóndor.

Helicopters
15 UH-1H
1 UH-60
13 Bell 412EP
5 206B Jet Ranger III

Air defense
GDF-005/007 2x35 mm cannon with FCS Sky Guard III fire control radar
Mistral missiles, some on Aspic launchers
Vulcan M-163 self-propelled, M-167 towed systems 

Acrobatic team
5 Extra 300

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Mapuche Fighters Display Effective Tactics

Seven police officers were hurt in an ambush as they moved to clear a group of about 40 masked men who had taken over a ranch. The assailants, believed to be extremist Mapuche activists, fired shotguns and other weapons at police, wounding the officers. The gunmen fled, and Carabineros were not able to make any arrests. The March 4 hit-and-run attack was just one of several that Mapuche fighters have carried out with success. Their tactics show a growing sophistication, and at the same time authorities seem to be one step behind. The region's police commander is asking for armored vehicles, which would afford Carabineros with a better way to pursue guerrilla fighters and defend against ambush. Already, more officers and a surveillance plane have been moved in to support the heavily fortified police station in the community of Ercilla. Violence in the southern Chilean region escalated after a Mapuche man was convicted in the arson deaths of an elderly couple. It was a rare court victory for authorities, who also haven't had much success prosecuting suspects. Many have walked away free. In August, for example, a dozen Mapuches held more than a year for an arson attack on a bus were acquitted.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Is Chile Bailing Out on Embraer's KC-390 Cargo Plane?

Since early in the development of the KC-390, Chile's Air Force has expressed interest in not just acquiring a few of the transport planes but also in being a manufacturing partner. But now, a report says Chile is shifting its attention to alternatives from Airbus. FACh is specifically eyeing the C-295 for a potential order of four to six medium transport planes, and the A400M to replace FACh's C-130 Hercules, according to InfoDefensa. Six A400Ms could be purchased. Chile had signed an intent to purchase as many as a half-dozen KC-390 planes from Brazil's Embraer, but the accord does not amount to a firm order, InfoDefensa added. Sources quoted in the article say Chile remains interested in buying the KC-390 but has backed out of being a partner in the program. Ironically, Chile had signed a preliminary deal for the A400 several years ago, only to withdraw later over questions about a partnership with Chile's state-owned aerospace company. FACh operates three aged C-130s and the plans to replace them have been murky and shifting. For example, last year the head of the Air Force announced the purchase of two used C-130s, but there's been no details since then. The Army is seeking its own tactical transport aircraft deal and is considering the Airbus C-295 as well. Its maritime patrol version is already in service with the Navy.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Cautionary Tale for Weapons Sellers in Chile

The acquisition of night-vision goggles for Chile's Army has raised suspicions of favoritism. An article in El Mercurio explains how the bidding process was mysteriously voided at the last minute and led to a complaint to the government's comptroller. The Greek company Theon is accusing the Army of revising the bid requirements in ways that favor a rival company represented by Virgilio Cartoni, a former Army officer who now works for a host of defense companies. Theon's goggles, the article says, finished first, second and third in the competition for the contract. In fourth place was the bid Cartoni represents. The bidding process was restarted, and some new requirements favored Cartoni's client, the article adds. The Army, for its part, blamed administrative errors and normal revisions in the procurement process. It's unclear how far the second competition has gone so far. The Army is seeking more than 3,000 night-vision goggles. As the representative for many arms suppliers, Cartoni has been a key middleman in the Army's acquisition of missiles, munitions, spare parts and other equipment.

Monday, February 10, 2014

How a Businessman Became Chile's Top Arms Maker

Anyone wishing to understand Chile's military industry needs to know the story of Carlos Cardoen. He is the most successful weapons manufacturer the country has known. He built landmines, bombs, armored vehicles and other types of arms for Chile and several countries. In a TV interview last year, Cardoen explained his rise from maker of mining explosives into a major arms manufacturer. As he tells it, the pivotal moment came in the late 1970s, when Chile faced military threats from Peru and Argentina. A U.S. arms embargo had left Chile desperate for weapons, and the military turned to its industrialists to make the arms it could not buy in the market. Cardoen was one of those industrialists. In a matter of weeks, he developed an anti-tank mine using off-the-shelf materials, such as caps from oil barrels. Later, the Air Force asked him to develop a bomb that could be dropped by reconnaissance aircraft -- something described as a harassment weapon. That, Cardoen says in the interview (check starting about the 10th minute of the video), led to the concept of cluster bombs, which Cardoen patented in the U.S. It's debatable whether Cardoen actually invented the cluster bomb. The Germans used a bomblet-dispersion system during World War II, and cluster bombs were used in the Vietnam War. But Cardoen's bombs and other designs helped Chile stave off its hostile neighbors. He continued building up his arms business and became a supplier to Iraq during its war with Iran, which made him a controversial figure. Today, Cardoen is out of the weapons business. But for decades, Cardoen was the most successful weapons manufacturer in Chile, and a major part of a defense industry that today includes a number or private and government-owned companies.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Chile to Provide Peacekeeping Troops to European Union

Chile signed an agreement that formally commits its troops to assist the European Union in its peacekeeping missions. Chile becomes the first Latin American country to become such a partner with the EU. Chileans are no strangers to peacekeeping in Europe. They served for more than a decade alongside EU troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they earned praise for their work. The agreement extends Chile's role as a peacekeeper. Already, the Chilean military has been a major component of the United Nation's effort in Haiti, and it has formed its own peacekeeping force with neighboring Argentina. The 2011 acquisition of a multi-role ship gave Chile a valuable resource to carry out such missions, and the Navy has already expressed interest in acquiring another one. For Chile, a country that has not had a war in more than a century, peacekeeping affords a way to expose its military to crisis situations and gain some experience dealing with enemies, although Chilean troops have seldom come under fire.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Tempers Flare in Chile After Border Ruling, but Military Largely Quiet

The new border
The International Court of Justice issued a ruling today that redraws the maritime border between Chile and Peru, handing Peru more than 20,000 square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean that belonged to Chile. The court denied Peru's claim to a much larger piece of the ocean, but the decision is being widely viewed in Chile as a victory for Peru. Indeed, Chilean politicians seems to be on the defensive, and there have been protests in Santiago and Arica. On social media, some Chileans are lambasting Peruvians, with typical nationalist fervor. Chile's government lamented the ruling, but reiterated that it will abide by the decision. It added that even with the loss of territory, Chilean fishermen keep most of the important fisheries. That hasn't appeased fishermen in Arica, however. On the military front, the only significant military movement was in the Chilean Navy, which set out to sea just days before the ruling, ostensibly for routine exercises. Chilean travel to Tacna, the Peruvian border city, slowed sharply last weekend. But no one expects any shots to be fired. There are some scenarios I've pondered that could inflame the crisis. For example, what it a Chilean fishing boat defies the ruling and is apprehended by Peruvian forces? Would Chile defend the fishermen? Likewise, would Chile immediately allow Peruvian fishing boats into the area? Would a treaty be required to formalize the court decision? If so, would Chile's Congress ever approve it? One conclusion is clear: For President Sebastián Piñera, it was a political defeat that capped a problematic four-year administration. Update: Peru wasted no time asserting its sovereignty over the new territory, sending its navy into the area.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Copper Company's Woes Influence Changes in Military Budget

As the presidential term of Sebastian Piñera winds down, so are hopes to eradicate the copper tax that has provided Chile's military with billions of dollars. Piñera now becomes the second-straight president to fail to win passage of the legislation, which replaces the tax with four-year spending programs based on strategic needs. The new budget plan has its flaws, to be sure. For example, Chilean defense analyst Eduardo Santos says the four-year framework lacks flexibility. But another driving force is the difficult situation at Codelco, the world's largest copper producer and the source of that lucrative source of funds. The government-owned mining company desperately needs to upgrade its aging mines, while facing slumping copper prices. In short, it needs to keep more of the money it makes. The government last month let Codelco keep an additional $1 billion of profit, for a total of $3.2 billion. The finance ministry called it a necessary investment to keep Codelco's leadership in mining and to maintain its investment-grade credit rating. Long-term, the company needs to spend $24 billion to modernize its operations. It needs to expand production by 10%, or risk losing half its output. Codelco is mandated to give 10% of all its foreign sales to the military. That would amount to more than $1 billion in the first nine months of 2013, based on Codelco figures, although the government deducts much of that sum, and several billion in unspent funds are stashed away in an emergency contingency fund. As the principal government-owned enterprise, Codelco is Chile's cash cow. Its 2012 profit of $7.5 billion was a sizable chunk of a total budget of roughly $60 billion. If the copper tax is someday eliminated, it would be replaced with regular government funds, although certain spending floors would be guaranteed.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Chile, Peru Try to Defuse Tensions Ahead of Court Ruling

The governments of Chile and Peru are striking a conciliatory tone as they prepare for the International Court of Justice's decision on their border dispute. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Peruvian leader Ollanta Humala agreed to issue a joint statement after the ruling is issued Jan. 27. Both are calling for calm and for the winning country to avoid boastful celebrations. Both presidents have made it clear they'll abide by the ruling, which affects a sizable chunk of the Pacific Ocean. Humala has said the two countries will "set an example" in their acceptance of the verdict, and that the ruling will set in motion a new agenda of cooperation with Chile. On the military front, all seems quiet. Rumors continue of reinforcements along the border, but nothing that can be substantiated. Update: Chileans in the city of Arica were alarmed when a Peruvian military helicopter flew over the border. But Chile said the Mi-17 did not violate Chilean airspace. Still, the flyover caused some anxiety.