Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Worthy Opponent for the Leopard 2

Peru is acquring MBT 2000 tanks from China as it tries to close the gap against Chile's potent armor. The MBT 2000 doesn't normally match up to Chile's Leopard 2. But China is adding reactive armor and other improvements that Peruvian officials say put the MBT 2000s on equal footing with the Leopard 2. The MBT 2000 can launch anti-tank missiles from its 125 mm gun, which give the tank a kill range of 5 km. Theoretically at least, that's a longer range than the Leopard 2's. Press reports say the deal is for 30 tanks at a cost of $5 million each. The MBT 2000 won out over the Russian T-90, the Polish PT-91 and Ukraine's T-84. The deciding factor was cost. Peru also hopes to purchase self-propelled artillery and other systems to supplement its new tanks.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More on the Proposed Military Budget Framework

The proposed financing mechanism for Chile's armed forces would keep a current budget surplus, of perhaps $3 billion, in a contingency fund. The money could be used in case of conflict or to support Chile's peacekeeping missions, according to details given from the Defense Ministry. Meanwhile, the navy's new commander, Adm. Edmundo Gonzales, voiced concerns that the plan has no spending floor. If the country's economy expands, he reasons, more military resources would be needed to protect those assets. Also, he noted that if spending plans are authorized in four-year segments, it may be difficult to finance acquisitions with multiyear loans. Under the current funding mechanism, based on revenues from the state-owned copper company, a minimum of $100 million goes to each of three major branches.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Video Game Set at Chile-Peru Border

"Battlefield: Bad Company 2" is set in what publisher Electronic Arts calls Arica Harbor. A look at its preview videos leaves no doubt this is the same Chilean city of Arica, just south of the border with Peru. In this tactical shooter game, U.S. and Russian forces battle it out over desert and urban terrain with infantry, armor and air elements. Incidentally, the scenario is not much different than Western-style Chilean forces and Russian-style Peruvian army engaging in war. The game, being released next March, is getting positive reviews from gamers.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chile Buys American for Air Defense

Chile is seeking to purchase U.S.-made Avenger missile systems and Sentinel radars to upgrade its air defense. The six radar systems, capable of tracking targets out to 75 km, would cost $65 million, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Three dozen Humvee-mounted Avenger systems with 390 Stinger missiles are also being sought, for an additional $455 million. A separate deal seeks 100 AMRAAM beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles for Chile's F-16 fighter jets. That one rings up for $145 million. All contracts would include training, maintenance and related costs. Defense Minister Francisco Vidal, however, said Chile is likely to purchase smaller quantities of the weapons than the DSCA announced. Stinger missiles have a maximum range of 8 km. Combined with the new Gepard artillery systems, the new acquisitions would give Chile a formidable short-range defense capability. Vidal said the new equipment replaces obsolete air-defense weapons. The Sentinel system provides 3-D surveillance of objects as small as UAVs.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

New Oiler Ship Sails to Chile in February

A U.S. fleet replenishment ship given to Chile will undergo a $30 million reactivation job that's expected to last three months. The USS Higgins would then set sail for Chile in February, according to the Mobile, Ala.-based Press-Herald. The Higgins has been mothballed since 1996. Its transfer to Chile's navy was finalized a year ago, as Chile's Defense & Military reported. The transfer was free, but required all reactivation work to be done by U.S. companies. Chilean sailors have already done some training on the vessel.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Exercise Goes On, Politics Notwithstanding

Chile is hosting joint exercises this month with the air forces of Brazil, Argentina, France and the U.S. The exercise is meant to develop teamwork, but the big story is the hypethetical conflict dreamed up. The scenario: a northern aggressor is defying international treaties and must be dealt with. That wasn't lost on Peru, which is disputing its ocean boundary with Chile. Chilean officials sought to smooth things over by inviting Peru's air force to observe the exercise, called Salitre. Peru declined and complained to one of Salitre's participants, the U.S. American officials nudged Chile into altering the scenario, according to El Mercurio. The Chileans obliged. No more northern aggressor.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chile Embraces M-4 Carbine, Despite Doubts

More units of Chile's armed forces are using the M4 carbine, the standard infantry weapon of U.S. forces and other nations. The marine special forces is one such unit, as seen in this photo. (The weapon is seen fitted with the M-203 grenade launcher.) The M4 has its share of critics, though. Some soldiers complain it jams frequently in dusty, desert areas. U.S. troops in Afghanistan say their guns have malfunctioned at critical times. With similar conditions in the north of Chile, is the M4 the most adequate rifle? Most Chilean army soldiers still employ the SIG 540 5.56mm rifles, built under license by Famae. Rumors of Chile acquiring the HK416 or the SIG556 haven't materialized. UPDATE: Chile is seeking to acquire up to 15,000 assault rifles to replace older ones, Enfoque Estrategico reported. A competition between the Colt M4 and the Heckler & Koch G36C is planned.

Monday, September 28, 2009

New Navy Chief Seeks Multirole Transport Ship

The navy's next major construction project should be a multirole transport ship capable of ferrying 500 marines, said new navy commander Adm. Edmundo Gonzalez Robles. The ship would also carry three helicopters and landing craft, Gonzalez told El Mercurio de Valparaiso. Such a vessel would be used to provide aid in case of natural disaster. Of course, it could also serve Chile's peacekeeping forces abroad and in the event of armed conflict. Gonzalez hinted that an existing design could be used for the project. The navy's main transport vessel, an ex-U.S. Navy amphibious landing ship, is nearing retirement. Gonzalez also wants to add 1,000 marines plus another 1,500 personnel . A few long-range helicopters are planned, too.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chile May Get into Embraer Project

Brazil's Embraer is looking for foreign partners to help develop its KC-390 military transport airplane, with Chile among the possibilities. Colombia, Portugal and South Africa also are possible partners, Dow Jones reported. Embraer is getting $21 million from Brazil's air force to start the project. Chile's air force is acquiring a dozen Super Tucano trainer aircraft from Embraer.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Copper-Based Military Funding Closer to End

President Michelle Bachelet sent to Congress a bill that eliminates the use of government copper sales for military purchases. Instead, weapons systems will be funded out of the general government budget under a broad 12-year plan. The plan would break down into four-year segments in which military leaders would outline strategic needs, Defense Minister Francisco Vidal said in a briefing. The proposal does not include a spending floor, or adjustments for inflation. Specific sums would be authorized each year. Acquisitions would become more transparent, although specific capabilities would be kept secret. The military commanders are said to be in agreement. The so-called copper law has provided Chile's military with billions of dollars over the past several years, thanks to a surge in copper prices. It obligated state-owned Codelco to give 10% of sales to the armed forces for procurement.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

KC-135s, Hercules, Missile System for Chile?

The air force is acquiring two surplus KC-135E tanker planes from the U.S. in one of several purchases under discussion. The first KC-135E may be delivered as early as October, according to Enfoque Estrategico. Offers for two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft are being entertained from Norway, the U.S. and England, the report adds. The most significant acquisition under discussion involves the SPADA 2000 air defense system from the European consortium MBDA. The system would operate with Aspide missiles from Finmeccanica/Alenia and the Giraffe 3D radar from Saab Microwave. Chile's army may also buy a few C-235 and C-212 light transport planes.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Conflict with Indigenous Group Flares Up

Chile faces an increasingly difficult security problem with the indigenous Mapuche community, which has been clashing with landowners and police. In one of the most serious incidents of the rebellion, a Mapuche activist was shot and killed by police Aug. 12. The Carabineros national police say the were ambushed by armed Mapuches as they sought to evict them from a farm. The officer involved, who was hit by shotgun pellets, was held pending an investigation. Mapuches quickly retaliated by burning down an agricultural warehouse. Activists in the indigenous group have been attacking agricultural and forestry operations and taking over farms in the south of Chile, demanding the return of native lands. Security in the region is worsening. Truckers and journalists are traveling in convoys to avoid attacks. Earlier this month, Mapuches complained they had been attacked by a paramilitary group, raising the possibility of a widening conflict. Meanwhile, the government became alarmed after representatives linked to the Basque separatist group ETA visited Mapuche activists.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Former Generals Held Over Tank Payments

A court has ordered two retired generals jailed in an investigation over the 1998 purchase of 202 Leopard I tanks from Holland. The two are suspected of taking bribes (nearly $300,000 each) from RDM Technology, the Dutch company that sold the tanks. Others could face charges. A payment of $1.6 million landed in the bank account of a company owned by the executor of former President Augusto Pinochet, according to reports. The investigation also is looking into an executive who brokered talks between RDM and Famae, the Chilean army's munitions company, and got a $7.5 million commission. The purchase totaled $54 million, without the commissions. Marketing, consulting and related fees are common in arms deals; the question is whether they represented a misappropriation of state funds.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Surplus Mirage Jets Sold to Ecuador

Fourteen retired Mirage 50 Pantera fighter jets have been sold to Ecuador, which will operate 10 of the planes and use the rest for parts. The deal was finalized in June but has yet to be officially announced, accoding to details reported by Enfoque Estrategico. The cost wasn't revealed. The Panteras were benched at the end of 2007, when their Punta Arenas-based squadron was deactivated. Chile has found a good customer for is surplus military equipment in Ecuador, which has acquired two Chilean frigates and sent its Type 209 submarines to Chile for upgrades.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Army Hiring 2,000 for Career Positions

Chile's army is hiring the first 2,000 soldiers as part of its modernization. By next year, a total of 5,200 troops will be on the payroll. The job requirements: Age 19-24, at least 2 years of high school, clean criminal record, single, no children. Applicants also must pass physical and psychological evaluations. The jobs are open to current enlistees, although people without military service can also apply. If hired, soldiers serve for five years and can apply to become noncomissioned officers. Professional soldiers are being counted on to provide the skilled labor to operate the new generation of high-tech weaponry and support systems.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Aircraft Acquisitions Top $500 Million

The purchase of eight CASA/EADS C-295 maritime patrol airplanes and eight Cougar helicopters total $250 million, Reuters reported. Subtracting the $80 million for the Cougars, that means the C-295s cost $170 million. The deal for 18 updated F-16 fighter jets from Holland, now confirmed, was estimated at $270 million. Total tab for the new aircraft: $520 million. That includes some training and logistical support. A separate deal for Mi-17 helicopters from Russia is estimated at $75 million.

Friday, July 17, 2009

How Chilean Soldiers Are Outfitted

The typical Chilean infantry soldier serving in the northern desert region carries five 30-round clips of ammo, night-vision goggles, a GPS beacon, Gore-Tex clothing, trekking shoes and the usual accoutrements. An army Web site shows that Camelbak water packs are optional, as are some other luxuries of combat.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Documents In Mirage Deal Were Destroyed

Documents detailing payments for the 1994 acquisition of Belgian fighter jets were burned, a probe into the deal has found. Investigators have now subpoenaed the former air force chief who ordered the papers destroyed, and the government comptroller who gave the go-ahead. Current Defense Minister Francisco Vidal also was ordered to testify. Ex-air force officials and others are accused of receiving illegal commissions in the acquisition of 25 Mirage 5 jets.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

First Images of Army Copters Surface

Pictures of the army's new transport helicopters have surfaced on the Internet, confirming they are AS-532 Cougars. The pictures were taken just outside a Eurocopter facility. Chile, which has yet to announce the acquisition, had agreed to acquire eight helicopters to replace about a dozen AS-330 Pumas. The more-advanced EC-725 was another model believed to have been considered. The AS-532 has a crew of two and can carry up to 25 troops.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Russian Helicopters May Start Arriving in 2010

The first of five Mil Mi-17 helicopters could start service with the Chilean air force next year. The Ministry of Defense is still negotiating the purchase, according to La Tercera. It would be the first time Chile acquires Russian-made military hardware. The Mi-17 is a reliable aircraft that costs a lot less than comparable helicopters. More details are in a December post.

Friday, June 19, 2009

New Artillery Battalion Being Equipped

Chile is buying from the U.S. two dozen M-109 self-propelled howitzers and support equipment to create a mechanized artillery battalion. The purchase also includes M557A2 command post vehicles, tracked logistics vehicles, thousands of shells (including rocket-assisted rounds) and a pair of Firefinder radars, which can pinpoint the location of incoming artillery shells. The deal is valued at $275 million, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Defense Industry Daily has some details on the equipment.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Army Names Camp After Pinochet Foe

Chile's army reopened a military base near Santiago earlier this month, naming it after a general who was assassinated by Gen. Augusto Pinochet's security forces. Gen. Carlos Prats was a loyalist of marxist president Salvador Allende and served in his administration. After the 1973 coup, Prats was exiled to Argentina. In September 1974, he and his wife were killed by a car bomb. The army's gesture is the latest effort to confront its bloody past. Gen. Oscar Izurieta is the third consecutive army chief to seek reconciliation.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Exocet Missiles to Get Land-Strike Capability

Chile's navy plans to upgrade its submarine-launched Exocet SM-39 missiles. The upgrade includes GPS navigation and technology that allows the anti-ship missiles to be used for land attacks, according to Jane's Defence Weekly. The missiles are being used in the navy's two Scorpene-class submarines.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

New Raft of Weapons Acquisitions Set

After months of relative quiet, Chile is opening up its wallet again for military hardware. Funds were authorized to start construction of two more offshore patrol vessels and for five more EADS CASA C-295 maritime reconnoisance airplanes. The army is buying more armor, including additional M-109 self-propelled howitzers, according to Periodismo en Linea. The air force is getting the first three of nine 3D radars for air-traffic control. Those are to be integrated with an air-defense missile system, the first elements of which are also being purchased. The acquisitions total $450 million, Periodismo en Linea said, and include a pending deal for 18 more F-16 fighters from the Netherlands.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Leopard 1 Tanks Getting Upgrades

Maybe Chile's Leopard 1 fleet isn't going to pasture, after all. A Turkish company called Aselsen Elektronik Sanayi & Ticaret won a $150 million contract to modernize 100 tanks. News reports didn't mention which model was involved, but indications are that contract is for the older Leopard 1s. Aselsen offers the Volkan fire control system for the Leopard 1, which improves target acquisition, tracking and aiming. It also provides better night vision, and command and control features. Chile has acquired more than 200 Leopard 1 tanks. It sold 30 to Ecuador. Reports had said the entire Leopard 1 fleet was being retired.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Army Expels 2 in Soldier's Beating

Two corporals were thrown out of the army for the beating of a 17-year-old conscript. An investigation continues into the May 1 incident, in which the soldier was punched and kicked during an exercise. Abuse of conscripts is a longtime problem in the army, but one that must eradicated if the planned all-volunteer force is to be a success. Bad publicity like this doesn't do much to attract volunteers.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Defense Chief May Have Fumbled F-16 Deal

Chile's defense minister is doing some backpedaling after prematurely announcing that a contract for 18 fighter jets was imminent. Once the remarks by Francisco Vidal came public, officials in Holland insisted the sale of the used F-16s was not a done deal, and other countries could still buy the planes. Vidal and air force commander Gen. Ricardo Ortega said the mess is just a misunderstanding. They just didn't realize that the Dutch parliament must be notified of the sale, and the U.S. government must clear the transfer. Still, some opposition leaders are calling for Vidal's head, especially if Chile ends up losing the deal. (Some sources told El Mercurio that Peru is one of the countries interested in the F-16s.) The $270 million contract is for surplus F-16s that have undergone modernizations, including an airframe upgrade. Included in the contract are spare engines, logistical support and training programs for the new planes plus another batch of F-16s acquired from Holland in 2006.

Friday, April 24, 2009

President Still Can't Get Decent Ride By Air

It seemed friendly skies for Chile's president when the air force bought a used Boeing 767 for her use last year. But now the 767 is having problems reminiscent of the old, faulty 707 that it replaced. An oil leak forced the 767-300ER to land in the Central African Republic, well short of its Moscow destination. The air force is having to buy a new engine, at a cost of $4 million. Turns out the 767 had a spotty maintenance record before Chile acquired it, according to El Mercurio. Other details raise questions about the plane's reliability. For example, it hardly flew between August 2007 and July 2008. In 2006, it was leased to an airline in Nigeria, which is notorious for its poor aviation safety. El Mercurio's sources say an offer from Airbus for two used A310 aircraft, for about the same as the $58 million 767, might have been better. That deal included a three-year warranty. But the air force canceled the purchase, citing a lack of adequate planes, which are to be used by the president and for the air force's airlift missions.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Police Get High-Tech Surveillance Aircraft

A Beechcraft King Air B200G with thermal-imaging and other observation equipment is now operating with Chile's national police force, the Carabineros. The twin-engine turboprop can send digital images to a ground station in real time using the Wescam Wisard system from L3 Communications. The King Air will be stationed in Iquique, from where it will scan the Atacama Desert for drug traffickers and illegal immigrants. The $7 million aircraft is similar to surveillance planes purchased by Iraq last year. Meanwhile, Carabineros also took delivery of the first two of four Augusta A-109 helicopters.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What the...? Bolivia Buying Planes from Chile

Bolivia's defense minister confirmed the country will acquire trainer aircraft from Chile. With the deal, Bolivia is extending an olive branch to Chile, which captured Bolivia's coastal territory in the War of the Pacific (1879-83). The acquisition grew out of an accord by the two nations to improve their relations. Meanwhile, Bolivia is joining regional talks to strengthen military ties among South American forces. Reports didn't mention the type of aircraft being bought, but said it will be from Enaer. The company's only trainer is the Pillan, a light plane that has been exported to several Latin American countries and Spain.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chile's Arms Merchants

Want to make a weapons deal in Chile? Here are the dealers you have to work with, according to an article in El Mostrador. Virgilio Cartoni Maldonado, a former army pilot, represents more than 50 companies, including Eurocopter, Kraus Maffei Wegmann, Rafael and other weapons and aerospace manufacturers. Cartoni's deals amounted to 21% of all army acquisitions in 2004, according to one report. Benjamin Berkovits, who runs a conglomerate, represents Bell Helicopter, Boeing and MDA MacDonald Space. He is said to have close ties to the air force. He's made inroads into navy procurement thanks to a partnership with a retired admiral, Hernan Couyoumdjian. Antonio Fortino, head of Eurocopter in Chile, is not really a go-between, but has helped the navy acquire Super Puma and Dauphin helicopters. Spanish entrepreneur Javier Taibo is best known as publisher of Defensa magazine. Some reports say he's a lobbied for EADS in Latin America. Dealers can earn commissions of 3% to 5% the value of arms sales, El Mostrador says.

Friday, February 13, 2009

College Grads Can Now Be Fighter Pilots

For the first time, Chile's air force will train pilots who have not gone through its academy. Basically, any college graduate can enter pilot school if he or she meets basic requirements, such as Chilean citizenship, maximum age of 27 and good physical shape. The air force pays most of the one-year course. If you finish, you become a full-fledged warplane pilot. The air force has struggled to keep enough pilots because many leave for lucrative airline jobs. Update: About 1,000 college grads applied for 30 positions in the program.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ex-Air Force Chief Jailed Over Payments

Former air force commander Ramon Vega was arrested on charges that he illegally took $2.9 million in public funds. The funds were commissions from a 1994 purchase of 25 used Mirage jets from Belgium. (See December 2007 post.) Three other retired officers also were held. The government's spokesman said all military acquisitions have been made "government to government" since the administration of Pres. Ricardo Lagos (2000-06). In other words, military leaders have made purchases with the consent of the government. It used to be that the armed forces made their own deals, with little oversight. But the military's reform has resulted in greater civilian authority over procurement matters.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tank Sale Bolsters Assistance to Ecuador

Chile sold 30 Leopard 1 tanks to Ecuador, the latest arms export to its South American partner. Each tank went for about $500,000, according to Chile is selling or retiring more than 200 Leopard 1s as it incorporates the more-capable Leopard 2 tanks into its armor batallions. The two countries have forged a growing military alliance, in which Chile has found a customer for surplus equipment and technology. Chile sold two used frigates to Ecuador's navy last year and is upgrading two of its submarines. Although well-worn, the Leopard 1 gives Ecuador a true main battle tank. It's a significant upgrade over the French-built AMX-13 light tank. The Leopard 1's 105 mm gun is equipped with an aim-stabilization system that keeps the gun locked on target even as the tank moves. Chile's Leopards were fitted with night-vision equipment and additional armor.