Saturday, July 27, 2019

Chile's Military Surrenders its Prized Treasure as 'Copper Law' Ends

Chile's government struck down the principal funding mechanism for weapons systems, which for decades provided billions of dollars and made it possible to acquire top fighter jets, armor and warships. The legislature, where the plan had stalled for nine years, finally voted to end the so-called copper law July 24, and President Sebastian Piñera will sign the bill Aug. 6. For more than 60 years, the state-owned Codelco copper mining company passed on 10% of export sales to the armed forces for weapons purchases. (In 2018 alone, Codelco's total sales were $14.3 billion, most of it in exports.) Now, the military will compete for funds along with all other government agencies. Here are the key points of the new law:
  • Each year, minimum spending floors will be set for maintenance and updates of weapons systems. Those will be based roughly on the average costs over the preceding six-year period. By some estimates, that could be $500 million a year.
  • An eight-year strategic spending policy will guide major acquisitions, and those will be budgeted in four-year increments.
  • All funds that had accumulated from Codelco are being turned over to the national treasury. But the government will create a strategic contingency fund to replace equipment that suffers major damage. It may also be used for acquisitions under the strategic plans.
  • Codelco's annual contributions are not going away anytime soon. It will continue to provide 10% of sales for nine years. After that, its payments will phase out over three additional years.
  • The new law includes steps that shift spending oversight away from the military and into the hands of the elected government. For example, the government's comptroller will review each four-year spending plan, and legislative committees will have an oversight role. In general, defense procurement will become more transparent.



Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Chile's Military Goes All in Against Drug Trafficking

Chile's armed forces have a new mission: They are the latest weapon against drug trafficking, especially in border areas. President Sebastian Piñera signed a decree that gives the military expanded powers and sets guidelines for their new role. The Army, Navy and Air Force will collaborate with police agencies to combat illegal drugs and organized crime. It's a landmark decision because governments have been reluctant to put the military in domestic security tasks since military rule ended in 1990. Piñera, however, says drug trafficking is an epidemic that must be fought with all available tools. Those tools are surveillance equipment, electronic sensors and logistical support the military can provide to watch over a porous border in the north of Chile. There are reservations, if not criticism, of the plan by some government officials, especially among the opposition. Determined to keep memories of the military junta in the past, some want assurances that the military's role will be limited and that the police will not become subordinate to the generals. Others are skeptical that the military can be an effective crime-fighter. The country's comptroller has requested more details and wants Piñera to better define what he means by "collaboration."  

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Chile To Acquire Armored Vehicles for Marines: Report

Chile's marines plan to purchase a dozen Coyote LAV reconnaissance vehicles from Canadian surplus stockpiles. Janes.com reported that negotiations continue on the deal, and that Chile is seeking new engines and spare parts as part of the purchase. Deliveries could begin as early as this year. The Ottawa Citizen, however, indicates that a sale remains far from ready, and that Canada has yet to officially list the vehicles for sale. That doesn't necessarily mean there's no interest from Chile. Weapons deal often are secretive until all terms are agreed upon. The Coyotes would likely replace Scorpion light tanks the marines use in a reconnaissance role, only the Coyotes are much better equipped. The Coyote LAV is a variant of the Piranha family of light armored vehicles. Armed with a 25mm M242 Bushmaster cannon, the Coyote's main characteristic is a suite of electronic sensors that can be elevated on a 10-meter telescoping mast. This gives the Coyote a superior ability to watch over large areas of the battlefield. Its radar can find targets out to 24 km, and other sensors have a range of 15 km. Coyotes can track an area for days or weeks at a time. This capability has made the Coyote an effective weapon in peacekeeping missions and in combat areas such as Afghanistan. The Scorpions are the only armor in Chile's marine force, which consists of a few battalions around key naval assets plus an embarked battalion.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Ex Army Commander Faces Trial for Money Laundering

Retired Gen. Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba goes to court May 30 to face charges that he laundered state funds to cover personal expenses. The sums involved total about 700 million pesos, or about $1 million U.S. dollars. Prosecutors believe Fuente-Alba used Army funds while he was the top commander to pay for relatives' travel and for other personal expenses. He is also accused of making payments to certain Army personnel who were close to him. The case is one of many corruption scandals that have shaken Chilean government and business in the past several years. The Army saw many of its Pinochet-era officers convicted of human rights violations, and there wasn't much controversy among the top brass until the corruption cases started emerging. Fuente-Alba is one of three former Army commanders facing charges. Gen. Humberto Oviedo, who led the Army in 2014-2018, also is being investigated for using funds to pay for family travel. Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre was convicted in a case that echoed back to the human rights era. As a recent graduate of the military academy at the time, Cheyre accompanied officers who took part in the killing of 10 persons following the 1973 coup. Sentenced to three years of probation for covering up the crimes, Cheyre was soon indicted for a series of abuses. He denies those charges.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Chile's Navy Signs Up for Two More Dutch Frigates

Chile's Navy is taking early steps to acquire two Class M frigates from the Netherlands, as the Navy looks to replace some of its older warships. The Navy signed a letter of intent to acquire the Van Amstel and Van Speijk once those ships are retired from Dutch service, reports say. The Van Amstel could be transferred in 2024 and the Van Speijk in 2027. The acquisition means Chile would own half of the Class M frigates ever built, having already purchased a pair of Class M ships in 2004 from the Netherlands. Chile is looking to replace two Class L frigates that were part of the acquisition of the Class M ships. The L frigates are air defense ships, and their retirement would leave the Armada without a platform for long-range anti-aircraft missiles.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

7 Years After Acquisition, Chile's Hermes UAV Finally Goes Public

For the first time since they were acquired, Chile's Air Force has put one of its Hermes 900 on public display, ending a seven-year period in which the high-altitude UAV was kept shrouded. FACh this month showed off a Hermes 900 in a display of aircraft tasked to fight wildfires. The UAV is equipped with an electronics payload to monitor burn areas and relay information to command posts and coordinate firefighting efforts. The Hermes on display was also equipped with a dorsal antenna for satellite links. FACh is also using transport planes and helicopters to ferry firefighting units, and at least one UH-1H Huey helicopter has been fitted with a water bucket. Chile confirmed the purchase of the Hermes 900 in 2011, but had kept it out of public view. FACh acquired from Israel's Elbit Systems three UAVs and support equipment in what was its first purchase of high-performance UAVs. Hermes 900 can fly to a maximum altitude of 20,000 feet and can stay aloft for as much as 26 hours. Other branches of Chile's military also are providing assistance to fight brush fires.