Sunday, December 30, 2007

Belgian Mirage Deal Under Investigation

Three children of a former Chilean air force commander got $700,000 in commissions tied to the 1994 purchase of Mirage warplanes, investigators in Chile and Belgium have found. Three air force officers also got funds that weren't disclosed, reported. The acquisition of 25 used Mirage 5 fighters cost $109 million, of which $15 million went for commissions to a French-Belgian company. The firm arranged the deal and distributed funds to others, eventually the offspring of retired Gen. Ramon Vega Hidalgo.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Army Acquires Marder Armored Vehicles

Negotiations are wrapping up for the purchase of 120 used Marder infantry fighting vehicles from Germany. The Marders will support new tank batallions equipped with the Leopard II, the daily El Mercurio reported. Currently, that's a job handled by the thinner-armored M-113. Munich-based Krauss Maffei will refurbish the Marders, which are being deployed to two armored brigades in Arica and Iquique. Deliveries are set for 2008; terms weren't given. El Mercurio's article adds that Chile's army is also looking to buy air-defense systems for its brigades. The German Gepard, long rumored to be the army's choice, and missile systems are under consideration from European and Russian sources., which broke the news of the Marder deal, has also reported talks to acquire a few hundred Piranha armored vehicles from Switzerland.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Contract for 12 Bell Helicopters Signed

An air force delegation stopped by the Texas headquarters of Bell Helicopter to sign a deal for 12 copies of the 412 model. Terms weren't disclosed. But earlier reports said $45 million would pay for an initial batch of four choppers.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

India, Russia Shut Out of Helicopter Deal?

The army is buying eight new AS532AL Cougar helicopters from Eurocopter. The $228 million deal includes upgrades to two Cougars already in service and various work on four AS555 light helicopters. The deal, according to reports, supplants an earlier plan to acquire used choppers from Germany. Just a few months ago, India's HAL and Russia's Rosoboronexport had each said helicopter deals with Chile were imminent. Perhaps Rosoboronexport jumped the gun, but sources have said Chile's army aviation brigade recommended the Mil Mi-17 to replace aging Pumas. HAL has been working to sell its Dhruv model to Chile for years. But it's unclear if the army has a requirement for a medium helicopter like the Dhruv.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

All-Volunteer Force Being Phased In

Chile is nearly doubling the number of professional soldiers to 5,000 under a program to increase the armed forces' skill level. Soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who complete their military service can apply for a five-year position. The jobs pay 250,000 pesos, or about US$500, a month. Chile has a military draft, but few if any draftees are forcibly conscripted. Deferrals are easy to get, and the downsizing of the armed forces left just enough spots for those who want to take advantage of military service. As Chile's military technology increases, it's become more important to keep skilled people in uniform. The army is reducing its Leopard I fleet, ostensibly because those tanks are obsolete. But critics say the tanks (acquired less than 10 years ago) would be in better operating shape if the army had enough technicians.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Hazards of Special Forces Training

Just about anywhere, commando training means a lot of hardship. For Chile's equivalent of the U.S. Navy Seals, it may be nothing short of abuse. In a published account, ex-commando Luis Cortes describes one stage of his training in which he was kidnapped by other marines and held prisoner. "You are naked, with no food, and they subject you to a series of tests to see if you are able to overcome a situation of this sort for real." That "simulation" included beatings and electric shocks, Cortes said. Of 145 trainees, 14 were still left when they were put through a survival test. That was a 50 km trek in which they had to find clothes to wear, fend on their own for food and water, and fight the elements. After the seven-month course (which took place in the early 1990s), Cortes had earned his commando beret. "When you're a commando, nobody bothers you...You gain status." After leaving the Cosacos, Cortes took a job with Blackwater, the controversial U.S. firm that hires former soldiers for armed duty in Iraq and other hot spots. Blackwater recruited hundreds of Chileans, and Cortes led a group of them in Iraq.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Naval Base in Antartica Reactivated

Chile's navy is putting its abandoned base in Antartica back into operating service early next year. The move came in response to new claims by Britain for a vast stretch of territory on the frozen continent. The Arturo Prat base was shuttered five years ago. But the British claims (for land believed to have oil deposits and minerals) prompted Santiago to show the flag on its own Antartic claim. The base will be used for scientific research, just like in its earlier life. It has a landing strip long enough for C-130 Hercules.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Navy's C-295 Aircraft Deal Confirmed

The navy agreed to acquire three C-295 maritime surveillance aircraft plus options for five more, EADS said in a press release. The deal is for one more plane than initial reports said (see the Sept. 15 post). The C-295s will be equipped with the Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS), which is capable of handling patrol, attack and other roles. One of those is anti-submarine warfare. At least one of the new planes won't be armed, but rather equipped for solely for patrol and search and rescue. The deal is valued at $120 million, including anti-ship missiles and torpedoes, reports said. Deliveries are set for 2009. The navy looked into upgrading its P-3 Orions, but the cost was too high. The cost of the deal was put at $120 million.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chile, Argentina Form Joint Peacekeeping Force

The defense ministers of Chile and Argentina announced Oct. 12 that the two countries forged a peacekeeping force to serve UN missions. The "Southern Cross" force will become operational in about a year. The combination is on a scale unprecedented for Latin America, and perhaps the world. Meanwhile, Argentina is acquiring designs from Chile's Asmar shipyard to build offshore patrol boats. Those plans are a modification of the Fassmer OPVs Asmar is building under licence from Abeking & Rasmussen of Germany. The news marks new milestones in an ongoing rapprochment between Chile and Argentina. Thirty year ago, the two nearly went to war over the Beagle Islands. But in recent years, both nations have solved border disputes, increased trade and tightened military ties.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

UAVs on the Shopping List

Procurement officials have been looking at UAV models for more than a year, according to the daily La Tercera. The report doesn't mention specific systems, but its sources indicated the unmanned aerial vehicles would be used for targeting and surveillance. The latter would be a peacetime role, too, giving the military a way to monitor the border. The review is due to end this year; there's no imminent request for proposals. Other items Chile is shopping for are transport planes for the air force (to replace C-130 Hercules), and the big one: the replacement of a dozen or so front-line fighters. The current squadron of F-5 Tiger III jets is due for retirement around 2015.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Leopard IIs to Begin Arriving by Year-End

The first of 136 Leopard II tanks bought from Germany will arrive in Chile by the end of the year. Some repair and maintenance equipment will arrive ahead of them. The second-hand tanks replace a similar number of Leopard 1, M-50 Super Sherman, AMX-30 and M-41 tanks. The Super Shermans are an updated version of the venerable U.S. World War II tank. They were purchased from Israel in the 1980s and fitted with the Hyper Velocity Medium Support (HVMS) 60mm gun, developed by an Israeli company, plus a fire-control system. Of the 136 new tanks, 93 will be put into combat units, forming three battalions. The rest will be used for training and spares. The army also operates six battalions of Leopard I tanks.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Report Indicates Navy Acquiring C-295 Patrol Aircraft

The navy is replacing its P-3 Orion and Embraer P-111 fixed-wing aircraft with EADS Casa C-295 Persuader for maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare roles. There's been no official announcement of the deal. But a transcript of an interview with navy commander Adm. Rodolfo Codina Diaz, posted on the navy's official Web site, quotes him saying seven planes will be purchased. The deal isn't quite done, the admiral notes, but the planes will be C-295. Initially, two planes will be acquired, to be followed by five more. No word on how much the acquisition will cost, or when deliveries are planned. The advantage of C-295 is that all the branches of Chile's armed forces already operate Casa transport planes, making logistics easier to handle. Prior reports indicated two of the seven new planes will be transports.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Armed Services Turn Attention to Logistics

Chile's air force (Fach) confirmed it acquired two Airbus A310 MRTT aircraft. The planes will serve as transports and provide in-flight refueling for F-16 and F-5 fighter jets. The Airbus jets replace an aged Boeing 707 that had been converted for refueling duties. Besides its outdated airframe, the Boeing's engines do not meet the noise standards of most airports. That's significant, because the Airbus jets will also be used to ferry the president during foreign visits. The contract was valued at $104 million. Fach also said it signed a deal with Bell Textron for the purchase of up to 10 Bell 412 EP helicopters. These are slated to replace Huey helicopters, used for rescue, transport and other general purposes. The deal includes four firm orders, worth about $45 million, with options for more units. The news followed reports that the army had agreed to acquire perhaps eight second-hand Super Puma helicopters from Germany. Meanwhile, the national police force (Carabineros) is taking deliveries of four new Agusta A-109 helicopters for patrol, rescue and general use.