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.