Sunday, August 21, 2016

Navy Launches New Patrol Ship as Construction Plans Expand

The fourth offshore patrol vessel for Chile's Navy was launched this month, adding to a program that already qualifies as one of the most important in the nation's history. OPV-84 Cabo Odger -- being assigned to the naval base in Iquique -- is based on the German Fassmer class, although Chile has added a helicopter deck to its own boats. Each OPV has a crew of 32, a 40mm or 76mm gun and can operate for up to 30 days. They are multi-role ships, with capabilities for maritime policing, search and rescue and logistic support. The OPV program stared in 2005, with initial plans for four vessels. But that was expanded to five and now six ships are planned. For a reasonable price (each costs $70 million to build in Chile's Asmar shipyard), the Navy gets a corvette-sized ship displacing 1,850 tons that can watch over the country's vast ocean territory at a lower cost than if frigates were used. The vessels also help offset the loss of several missile boats that have been retired. The program also gave Chile important know-how to expand its shipbuilding industry, and included the participation of some Chilean companies. Defense electronics contractors DESA and SISDEF supply key components to the OPVs.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Tensions with Bolivia Grow; Chile Says It's Taking Measures

The political row between Chile and Bolivia is getting nastier. Bolivian President Evo Morales doesn't miss a chance to accuse Chile of violating his country's rights, and Bolivian Chancellor David Choquehuanca said the country is ready to "shed blood" to defend against Chilean aggression. Such inflamed comments prompted Chilean Minister of Defense Jose Antonio Gomez to accuse Morales of trying to ignite a clash, and to reassure Chileans that he has "taken measures" to deal with any circumstances that threaten the nation's sovereignty. Not since the 1970s has Chile faced such hostility from a neighboring country. Of course, angry feelings from Bolivia are nothing new. In the 19th Century War of the Pacific, Chile conquered Bolivia's coastal territory, leaving it landlocked and dependent on Chile for access to ports. Militarily, Chile has a vast superiority, so the chance of an armed conflict is remote. Instead, Bolivia seems to be litigating the consequences of the War of the Pacific through a propaganda campaign and through challenges to a 1904 treaty. The dispute could last years, with Bolivia finding new ways to harass its neighbor to the west. It didn't help matters that China gave Bolivia a fleet of 31 armored vehicles. China may not necessarily be choosing sides, but could be just looking to improve relations with countries from where it wants to acquire natural resources. After all, China is Chile's biggest buyer of copper, and Chile and China have some military ties themselves.