Sunday, January 31, 2010

New Tanker Planes, F-16s Set to Arrive

The first of three KC-135 transport aircraft is due to land in Chile Feb. 18. The planes can also provide in-flight refueling, extending the operating range of Chile's F-16 fighters. The tankers were one of several program updates announced Jan. 26. Defense Minister Francisco Vidal said the 18 used F-16 jets, acquired from the Netherlands, will start arriving in October. The $270 million deal gives Chile a total of 44 F-16s. The latest batch is being assigned to the 5th Aviation Brigade in Antofagasta. Also, the first six of a dozen Super Tucano trainers have been delivered, with the remainder arriving in several months. Chile's air force also has taken delivery of some of its 12 brand-new Bell 412 helicopters. The KC-135s bolster Chile's transport capacity and combat range, but the aircraft are old and it's unclear how long they can remain operational. It's conceivable that one of the three planes will be used for spares. If the announcement wasn't enough to rile Peru, air force Gen. Ricardo Ortega fanned the fire with a thinly disguised warning: "Everyone watching us knows we have the capability to strike hard. So, it's better that they leave us alone."

Friday, January 22, 2010

What New President Means for Chile's Defense

Businessman Sebastian Pinera is taking office March 11, becoming the first right-wing president of Chile since Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Do Pinera's conservative credentials mean a boost for Chile's military? Not necessarily. Pinera's campaign agrees that the so-called copper law -- responsible for a huge increase in defense spending the past several years -- needs to go away. The critique: The law provides plenty for acquisitions but nothing for operating expenses; funds must be split evenly among the armed services; and the cash flows from copper don't necessarily coincide with defense needs. Pinera may have another motive. He wants to privatize at least part of Codelco, the state-owned copper company that provides 10% of its export sales to the military. Privatizing would be a lot easier if Codelco didn't have a defense committment. Codelco's military ties also hurt its foreign expansion plans. One area of national security that figures to get a major boost is the national police force. Pinera has vowed to add thousands of Carabineros, and equip them better, to fight Chile's crime problem. Is Pinera a hawk? Yes, but he also knows the value of good relations with neighboring countries. His businesses, including Lan Airlines, make a lot of money abroad. Chile, after all, became a wealthy country thanks largely to free trade.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chile General Takes Command of Haiti UN Forces

With the current leader of the UN peacekeeping force missing after Tuesday's earthquake, Chilean army Gen. Ricardo Toro has assumed command of the 9,000-strong force. The job is doubly tough for Toro, whose wife is among the missing. Chile has about 500 troops in Haiti. Their deployment since 2004 has been fairly uneventful until this week. No Chileans were hurt in the quake, although several from other nations died. Chile's air force is dispatching a Hercules C-130 and a Boeing 767 with humanitarian aid, while a navy landing ship is sailing to the disaster area. UPDATE: Chilean firefighters on Jan. 22 found the body of MarĂ­a Teresa Dowling, the wife of army Gen. Ricardo Toro, in the ruins of a hotel that collapsed in the Haiti earthquake. Gen. Toro spent only a couple of days in control of UN forces before being relieved to focus on the search for his wife.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Air Force Gets First Tucano Deliveries

Embraer has delivered the first four of a dozen Super Tucano aircraft to the air force. The turboprops are primarily for pilot training but can be modified for anti-insurgency roles. In its press release, the Brazilian plane manufacturer said the Chile deal includes a flight simulator, a mission planning station and a mission debriefing station.