Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How to Defend Chile in the Air

For the same reason that naval power is important to Chile -- i.e., the country's narrow geography doesn't allow for much flexibility in land mobility -- air power is just as valuable. The Air Force, or FACh, has the mission of maintaining air superiority so that land and naval forces can maneuver effectively. That role falls on the 10 F-16 Block 50 and 36 F-16 MLU fighter planes that provide Chile with the backbone of its air force. Compared with neighboring countries, the F-16 squadrons form a capable if not formidable weapon, especially when targeting pods, beyond-visual-range missiles and radar systems are factored into the equation. In a conflict, the F-16 fleet would provide adequate cover to operate air combat patrols wherever Chile conducts military operations. Pilot training is thought to be at least on par if not superior to Peruvian and Argentine pilots. (Bolivia has no credible air force.) Air bases could be vulnerable to enemy strike, especially if the Andes mountains obscure radar coverage. To protect its bases, FACh counts on the NASAMS medium-range air defense missile system. It also uses truck-mounted Mistral missiles, some 40mm anti-aircraft guns and Vulcan anti-air cannon for a layer of shorter-range air defense. The F-16s also would be tasked with ground attack missions, and for that role Chile also could count on A-29 Super Tucano, F-5 Tiger III and even the antiquated A-36 Halcon jets. The F-16s, though, have the better targeting systems and JDAM bombs. Transportation is a third leg of FACh's mission, and that's an area in which it has added some assets the past few years. It acquired at least two C-130 Hercules planes and three KC-135 tanker-transport planes from U.S. stockpiles. It also has a few converted Boeing jets and light Twin Otter planes. Those aircraft, however, would be stretched thin if Chile has to supply forces at either end of its long geography, and it would also have to hope that most runways stay operational.

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