Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chilean Army: Really Modernizing?

This is another type of war. New in its intensity, ancient in its origins – war by guerrillas, subversives, assassins; war by ambush instead of by combat. By infiltration, instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him… This type of war requires a wholly different kind of force, and therefore a new and wholly different kind of military training.

-- President John F. Kennedy, in remarks to the graduating class, U.S. Military Academy, 1962.

By Jose Miguel Pizarro

The Chilean army is currently in the final phases of completing an historical modernization process that is almost exclusively focused on conventional warfare. Chilean main battle tanks, mechanized formations and heavy artillery provide a false sense of superiority that confuses political decisions -- about the eventual use of force -- with the urgent need to develop a military that is truly prepared for a myriad of asymmetric contingencies. While it is important that the implementation of maneuver warfare with heavy tank formations be subject to critical evaluation, the generalized disregard in the Chilean army on irregular warfare (IW) is flawed and warrants a closer look.

After nearly a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan – between some of the most powerful armies in the world and a group of poorly equipped guerrilla fighters – professional soldiers and military analysts have driven home important lessons that have resulted in the rapid development of new technologies as well as a new sense of appreciation for old ones.

While these lessons have been taken on board -- to a greater or lesser degree by most armies around the globe -- the Chilean army remains largely uninformed and disconnected with these developments. A look at worldwide procurement trends reveals that while the number of main battle tanks in some major armies is falling, the market for lighter armored vehicles such as MRAPs, 8x8 armored personnel carriers, and 4x4 armored security vehicles -- all of them more suited to fighting insurgencies -- has been growing almost out of control for the past 10 years. Likewise, most western armies are now developing some type of soldier system that gives the individual soldier better communications, situational awareness, protection, and increased lethality.

That lethality is increasing at the smaller unit level with a new generation of precision munitions, with GPS-guided artillery rounds for the 155 mm howitzer and with the deployment of precision-guided mortar projectiles and rifle-caliber guided rounds in development. Unmanned vehicles are also becoming more common at the rifle company and platoon levels throughout the U.S. and European forces, with an increasing array of sensors even aboard small, hand-launched UAVs. Surprisingly none of these training, doctrinal or technological developments is being implemented into the regular combat units of the Chilean army. Not even one.

Chilean army generals reject irregular warfare (IW) and counterinsurgency (COIN) because they don’t see the Chilean army embroiled in guerrilla conflicts that will tarnish the reputation of the army as an institution and because they truly believe they will never face a determined enemy wearing the “uniform” of the insurgency. “Why prepare for a war that will never come, Pizarro? We will defeat them in the conventional battlefield with our tanks, they will surrender, sign the peace and we will all go home victorious. There will never be a guerrilla movement strong enough to disrupt army operations.”

I believe this view is misguided. To be prepared for war (for virtually any type of war) is one of the most effective means of preserving peace. For instance, the Chilean army prepared for tank battles with the Peruvian and Argentineans for more than four decades, yet rarely deployed to fight. The system worked because we were never forced to cross the border. This in turn created a self-perceived idea of invincibility that effectively eliminated the need to prepare for any other type of battle. Unfortunately, the Chilean army high command has never considered the possibility that maybe war cannot be avoided, and that in the event the Chilean elected civilian leadership takes the decision to go to war, it is the Chilean army’s responsibility to be prepared to fight in all types of contingencies. The Chilean army cannot prepare only for the war that they hope to or would like to fight. Once begun, a war's character evolves and changes. Even a reasonable expectation that no insurgency or guerrilla force will arise, may in fact be tremendously flawed. The point of counterinsurgency is to counter insurgents -- that is, to fight against those who use terror, violence and fear to undermine the presence of Chilean forces in a foreign land -- both sides fighting to take control of people and territory. This is a type of war that is recurring, consistent and repetitive in the 21st century… whether or not we are comfortable with its character.

Finally, it is the lack of debate that concerns me the most. The Chilean people are convinced they have a robust, modern and highly trained military force ready to win (at least) the wars of the next decade. In fact, they truly believe that once the political decision is taken the military forces being deployed by Santiago are fully prepared to respond and adapt to all kinds of contingencies against the same traditional adversaries they have faced for the past 100 years. As a result, no surprises are expected. Sadly, that’s not true.

To suggest that the Chilean armed forces are ready to cross the northern borders, win the conventional war and then shift to maintain enemy territories under control for several months or even years… is to overstate our true capabilities. And yet that is exactly the kind of operational environment we will be forced to face. Our enemies have choices in war and in the 21st century small enemy organizations have demonstrated an amazing ability to shift the character of armed conflicts in ways that avoid our strengths and take advantage of perceived weaknesses.

The Chilean army is by no means a perfect organization. It certainly has made some mistakes in the past and vowed never to repeat them, but to ignore a whole dimension of war because we wish to, and because some academia geeks believe that certain forms of warfare do not play to our strengths, threatens to replace our duty to prepare for future wars with nothing more than simple wishful thinking. And that’s a mistake history will force us to pay with blood.

Mr. Pizarro, 42, is a former Chilean Army artillery officer with an extensive operational background in both the Latin American region and with the U.S. armed forces. He also served in the U.S. Marines and later as a senior security advisor/contractor for four years in the Middle East. Mr. Pizarro also worked for CNN en Español as a military analyst. He lives in Washington, DC, with his family. E-mail:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chile Miffed Over Bolivian Army Video

It's common for armed forces in variuos countries to make videos promoting themselves, showing off their hardware or otherwise engaging in chest-thumping. But one Bolivian army video goes further, alluding to Bolivia's hopes of taking back its coastal territory and daring, "We're wating for you, Chileans." In Chile, officials were miffed and demanded an explanation. Bolivia's army says the video was altered by someone in Brazil.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cable Discusses 'Myths' of Mapuche Conflict

The conflict between native Mapuches and Chile's government are "serious and merit attention," but at the same time, the problem is being sensationalized in the Chilean press, says a confidential cable from the U.S. State Department. "Destruction of property -- which accounts for the vast majority of all illegal Mapuche action -- is often displayed in full color and with bold headlines," notes the November 2009 cable, released by Wikileaks. "Moreover, positive or less incendiary news from indigenous communities -- resolution of localized conflicts, peaceful protests, meetings, or other actions taken to address Mapuche political concerns -- are often not covered at all." Quoting a Chilean official, the cable says 27 of 2,100 Mapuche communities are actively in conflict with landowners. A separate cable quoted former Interior Minister Perez Yoma telling the U.S. ambassador on Feb. 6, 2008, of concern about "the potential radicalization of Chile's indigenous population, including funding from foreign terrorist groups and/or Venezuela." Perez Yoma specifically asked for help in "following the money" to track financial sources. The FBI, the cable added, is working with Chilean police "to assist in identification and potential prosecution of actors within Chile." As the cables note, the conflict over ancestral lands is concentrated on a relatively small segment of the Mapuche community. Nonetheless, their activities continue to pose a security risk, even to some not directly involved in the conflict. Vandalism, arson and other crimes have created a threatening and unwelcoming environment that has retarded business development in the Araucania region, now one of the poorest economically in an otherwise vibrant Chile.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hazing Incident Proving Costly for Air Force

It's an air force tradition to celebrate a cadet's first solo flight by stripping him on the tarmac, use sandpaper on the skin and otherwise razz the new aviator. But in one case now under investigation, the hazing got out of hand and the cadet suffered serious injury to his ear. The damage has left him unable to fly and he has left the academy, says a story in El Mostrador. The incident occurred about a year ago, but grew worse lately after the cadet alleged that an officer hacked into emails between the cadet and his attorney. The air force says it's considering disciplinary action. As El Mostrador notes, training a pilot is expensive -- about $2 million for a single F-16 course. Besides the financial cost, this is no time for the air force to lose pilots. The service is desperately trying to keep them from defecting to airline jobs. It is now letting college grads apply to be pilots, without having to go into the air force academy. So the incident gives the air force bad publicity when it can least afford it, and it could have political consequences, too. More of the military budget is coming under legislative control, and bad press such as this doesn't help.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Day After We Win the War

“Like academic military historians, surprise attacks theorists have fallen into the habit of ignoring the central element of War – the fighting. Like some utilitarian historians, and many contemporary observers, they tend to focus on only one level of command, usually the very highest civilian authority, such as the president or prime minister. It is therefore to other analytic traditions or approaches that we must turn in order to learn how to dissect military misfortune.”
-- From “Military Misfortunes. The Anatomy of Failure in War,” by Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch.

By Jose Miguel Pizarro

Today we are well into an era of nonstop international conflict – a time when the most dangerous adversaries for traditional or conventional armies are in fact irregular forces supported by a constantly changing and seemingly invisible network. Just as the old rules of conventional warfare do not apply in this new environment, neither does the old way of analyzing battlefield intelligence related to these new all-too capable enemies.

The Contemporary Operational Environment (COE) is defined by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) as: “a composite of the conditions, circumstances, and influences that affect the employment of military forces and bear on the decisions of the unit commander.” (Joint Pub 1-02). Yes, I got that. But considering that in the 21st Century the population is now a key unconventional element that adapts to its terrain -- just like any other friendly, neutral or enemy force does -- then my question is: How the local population fits into the new Operational Environment (O.E)? In other words, if more than 90% of all daily combat engagements will be inside urban areas, villages and around thousands of innocent civilians, how is the Chilean Army preparing its troops to fight inside that specific combat scenario? Where is the doctrine to understand this new operational environment?

Believe it or not, many Chilean Army and Air Force generals are convinced that the Peruvian army will order its troops to deploy into a WW2 defensive formation in the middle of the desert. This convenient (and vastly accepted assumption) will comfortably allow the Chilean Army to destroy the Peruvian formations well beyond the horizon and help the Chilean Air Force to safely pursue any surviving units with a series of bomb runs well away from populated areas. But trust me… that it’s not going to happen.

I believe the Chilean army is training today to fight a conventional war of attrition that will never come and using a conventional mentality that it is fundamentally different from the threats and realities of today’s complex asymmetric battlefields in which guerrilla and irregular forces are in fact the main enemies. If Chile ever goes to war, its armed forces will be directed to capture enemy locations -- deep inside enemy territory -- and instructed to maintain those provinces for extended periods of time. But if neighboring countries don’t have tanks, mechanized formations or heavy forces the Chilean army will then quickly capture towns, cities and villages without ever engaging into major conventional battles. This particular scenario will leave between 20,000 to 40,000 Chilean soldiers occupying cities deep in the heart of an enemy nation of which our soldiers and commanders don’t know anything about.

Lots of tanks but very few UAVs and computers
There is a dramatic need – at the brigade level and below – for finer training, institutional doctrine and electronic equipment for targeting individuals instead of tanks, and for gathering accurate data about enemy populations. For instance; What do we know about the Peruvian Army and its relationship with the 15 million-strong Aymara and Quechua Indian community? Will the indigenous people of Alto Huallaga and from the VRAE region support the central government in Lima or instead, be indifferent to a border war with Chile?

The operational environment it is extremely influential in determining the outcomes of military and nonmilitary actions in urban settings. It constantly evolves and in fact constantly morphs into different shapes and characteristics. Within one southern Peruvian city, one can find the intersections and collisions of people, organizations, culture, religious beliefs, attitudes, motives, technology and personal needs that are completely different from another city of similar size in the north or in the jungle regions of the country. Since Chile's adversaries need the support of the population to survive, we must understand the local population to win the war. To grasp the influences that drive behavior, we have to collect data specific to that environment (i.e., city, villa, province, etc.) and we have to smartly keep on collecting that data to keep it updated. Unfortunately, the Chilean Army HQ in Santiago is trying to simply draw a line in the sand and declare that we now have all the relevant data we need on an operational environment like Peru and Bolivia.

The Problem
Times have changed, and the intel community in Santiago must accept that it needs to change accordingly. Conventional operations are those traditional, force-on-force, state-versus-state major combat operations typified by Operation Desert Storm, the first two months of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the tank battles between Egypt and Israel during the Yom Kippur war of 1973. Forces in major combat operations are characterized by mass and a decent degree of predictability. Conventional forces generally operate as formed units or groups such as brigades and regiments, ships and task forces, squadrons, wings and groups and perform within generally accepted parameters and functions. Although irregular forces do not follow those rules, the Chilean army has failed to prepare, train and equip its army to face such an aggressive and elusive enemy.

For the Chilean Army, the terrain of crucial interest in major combat operations is that of the physical environment over which operations are conducted. That’s all. The "local population” are generally an obstacle that will usually not participate in operations and -- it is assumed -- will take what steps they can to quickly vacate combat zones. If anything, they may be a consideration in operation planning as potential obstacles or constraints in force application. Today, the people who are of primary interest for the Chilean intelligence community are the enemy leadership (civilian and military) of the opposing nations. In Santiago they still believe that the opposing president and his government are the ones who historically determine whether their nation fights or falls. While that might be the case with Bolivia, the Peruvian Marine Corps and the Army Special Forces will welcome the opportunity to kill Chilean soldiers by following their historical tradition: “… to grab their assault rifles and backpacks and fight the Chilean Army for decades.” And believe me, they are very good at that.

Every single one of the wars that have characterized the 21st Century lacks the comfortable form and function of conventional conflict. The operating environment today is substantially different from that of the conventional conflicts that characterized the past 60 years. Surprisingly, when you review the order of battle of the Chilean army today, you see the same old force design and rigid formations of the U.S. Army in Korea in 1951. So long as we continue to think in terms of conventional warfare -- as the sole purpose of the army -- we will keep on preparing to fight the wrong war and with the wrong enemy.

Understanding the Human Terrain
Chilean soldiers are trained to observe and report enemy troops and vehicle movements. Chilean doctrine mandates that if a scout patrol spotted four Peruvian BRDM wheeled vehicles or a ZSU tracked vehicle on the move, we will immediately use that information as potential combat indicators. After confirming their presence (on a particular location), we could then apply a general decision-making template that might lead us to determine where the other key elements of that enemy force might be. Once we were reasonably certain of their location, those elements could then be engaged with weapons of mass effect such as cluster bombs, 160 mm artillery barrages or with a pair of F-16s. The problem is that today modern armies are moving away from an era of platform-based tracking to one of tracking individuals. And that is a far more fundamental and relevant concept for the contemporary environment than the much-abused "we are fighting for our country” slogan that is traditionally used in South America to justify mistakes, lack of intellect and sheer incompetence.

Well, so what’s new? The thing we fail to understand is that after the conventional war is over, the real fight will start. In the modern Irregular Warfare (IW) environment, our equivalent combat "indicator" might simply be two men and a taxi loading bags in the trunk. But in all probability they are just two men and a taxi with no supporting doctrinal template that might expose other elements of their force. So what do we do? Stop them? Follow the taxi with a UAV? Disregard the information and keep on looking for armed civilians? What does the doctrine says about this? Oh, I am sorry… I forgot. There is no doctrine for irregular and unconventional warfare in the Chilean Army. To effectively target an adversary force element in an IW conflict, we first need to understand its local environment in all its forms: cultural, physical, intentional, economical, political and informational. That's at least five more aspects than the tactical and operational levels of conventional conflict. In conventional battle, the concerns are: What is it? Where is it? (the physical aspect) and What is it going to do? (the intentional aspect). That’s all. The Chilean Army is very good at identifying the characters in the environment, but not so good at identifying the characteristics. In irregular and unconventional wars, we want to know much more about every aspect of the operational environment. We need to see beyond the obvious and ask our commander for more than the conventional considerations that might relate mostly to cover, concealment and mobility of enemy regiments and vehicles. Really? Why? Well it is quite simple; in irregular warfare (IW) there are no enemy regiments. The only way we can know about these things is to get out there and gather the data with our own troops. The human terrain system scouts and the new intel collectors, the "every soldier a sensor" concept and the data held by host nations and nongovernmental organizations, each contribute to what is a crucial function in the contemporary environment. Unfortunately, consideration for these sources is not considered necessary -- let alone important -- in the Chilean Army current doctrine of operations.

In Chile, the real weakness in this area is not the ability to collect the data but the ability to process it. Our current force design does not include the equipment, the personnel or the means of collection to support the higher resolution necessary in today's environment. Worst, doctrinally speaking we haven't adapted our human intel processing system to either manage the sheer bulk of data now collected or fuse and process it into products that contribute to our tactical commanders with anything other than random tactical gains. In other words, while we may be using this data to get short-term wins, few of these contribute to longer-term and sustainable objectives and measures of success. Even before that, we need to frame the problem and get the questions right so that the answers are not irrelevant. We can't do that either without current relevant data and the technological means to interpret it relative to the environment.

We Chileans pride ourselves with military forces trained for major combat operations and with modern formations capable of handling anything in the spectrum of conflict – from large scale combat operations to low intensity warfare. However, the past 10 years of war on planet Earth would suggest otherwise, showing a clear need for our forces to refocus for a different style of war. Military transformation allows us the flexibility and adaptability to defend ourselves in a changing world. Just as Chilean ingenuity continues to strive to create the overwhelming strategic advantages that we have enjoyed for so long, so will our adversaries continue to search for our asymmetric vulnerabilities. We, in turn, must counter these vulnerabilities with superior intellect, with constant innovation, and with change. Today's challenge is also preparedness — preparedness to deal with a dangerous world filled with a variety of changing threats. And preparedness to respond decisively, if necessary, to aggression against our nation and to our interests.

Mr. Pizarro, 42, is a former Chilean Army artillery officer with an extensive operational background in both the Latin American region and with the U.S. armed forces. He also served in the U.S. Marines and later as a senior security advisor/contractor for four years in the Middle East. Mr. Pizarro also worked for CNN en Español as a military analyst. He lives in Washington, DC, with his family. E-mail:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Multirole Ship Purchase a Done Deal?

With the Exponaval show in full force, more signs are emerging that Chile is serious about acquiring a multirole ship. Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet said the navy's only major landing ship, which needs about $15 million in repairs, will be retired. A replacement vessel is being sought, he added. The report in El Mercurio de Valparaiso adds that Chile has apparently settled on buying a Foudre-class ship offered by France, rejecting a competing offer from Italy. Meanwhile, the British are making a push at Exponaval as the Royal Navy tries to sell some of the ships being retired under a major cost-cutting program. The carrier HMS Ark Royal, two landing ships and other vessels are now possibitilies for Chile's acquisition. Twenty British companies are taking part in Exponaval, where the theme of this year's show is transport capabilities. A series of natural disasters, including the February earthquake and a volcano eruption before that, has intensified the need for a ship capable of taking vehicles and aid to areas where roads and airfields are scarce. The navy has specified a need for a ship with roll-on, roll-off ramps, with the ability to carry vehicles and supplies. Such a ship would also serve Chile's peacekeeping missions in other countries.