Sunday, December 18, 2011

Army Reorganization Targets Defense of the Andes

While its northern borders command most of Chile's defense efforts, the Andes mountains are the focal point of a new restructuring in the Army. The 3rd Army Division is being renamed 3rd Mountain Division and it will combine regiments that specialize in defending the massive mountain range. The 3rd Mountain Division, with headquarters in the southern city of Valdivia, will bring together three reinforced regiments, two infantry regiments (of roughly 400 troops each), one artillery, one armored cavalry, one communications and one logistics regiment. All units are based in central and southern areas of Chile, with the southernmost being Reinforced Regiment No. 9 in Osorno. The three reinforced regiments are comprised primarily of a mountain infantry battalion and a mountain engineer battalion, with one regiment (in the Los Andes community) also equipped with an artillery unit. The crest of the Andes largely marks the border with Argentina and Bolivia, so it's a major piece of Chile's security considerations. The new reorganization is designed to better coordinate defense and disaster-relief operations in mountainous areas, rather than cope with a specific threat. Argentina and Chile are on quite friendly terms, and the Andes form a natural barrier with that country and with Bolivia.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Blastoff! Chile's New Satellite In Orbit

Chile's new satellite was launched into orbit the evening of Friday, Dec. 16 from a facility in the French Guiana. The FASat-Charlie satellite is a joint military-civilian program in which the 117-kg spacecraft will be used for mapping, agricultural monitoring, environmental research, management of natural resources, and of course to peek into neighboring countries' military installations. Reports say FASat-Charlie's sensors are powerful enough to detect submarines on the surface. The $72 million satellite, built by Europe's Astrium, is considered the most powerful in South America. It is scheduled to be in orbit for five years. Chile's Air Force will operate a ground control station at the El Bosque air base. FASat-Charlie is not the first satellite Chile has put in space. The first project, in 1995, was a failure after the satellite never separated from its booster rocket. The second spacecraft, launched in 1998, operated for three years.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friends Don't Let Friends Fly Drunk

The scenario: An Air Force pilot who's been drinking alcohol takes off on a training mission flying an attack plane with a bomb payload. Something goes wrong in flight and the pilot ejects, and the plane crashes. The Air Force fires the pilot, as you would expect any reasonable military organization to do, and files criminal charges. But this month, Chile's supreme court acquitted the pilot. The court ruled the Air Force does not specifically make drunken flying a crime. The only punishment that could be meted out in this case was just disciplinary action. The crash, which occurred in 2003, resulted in the loss of an A-36 Halcon jet. That's not a front-line warplane, but still a significant loss. For the Air Force, the incident is a black eye and the latest piece of bad news in what has been a dreary year. On Sept. 2, a C-212 transport plane carrying 21 civilians and crew members crashed off the Juan Fernandez island, killing all on board. During the subsequent recovery mission, a ground crew member was struck by a propeller blade and killed. On Nov. 9, a pilot with the Halcones acrobatic flying team was killed in a training crash.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Single-Engine Planes Added to Border Security

Chile has acquired three small airplanes as part of its effort to curb drug trafficking in the northern border region. The Cirrus SR-22 planes, which cost $500,000 each, will be equipped with optical equipment for day and night surveillance. The acquisition is part of Plan Frontera Norte (Plan Northern Border), which bolsters defenses against drug trafficking from Peru and Bolivia with a combined air-sea-land campaign. The government has budgeted $70 million through 2014 for Plan Frontera Norte. Other elements of the plan include a ground radar, a mobile thermal-imaging system, fast-reaction vehicles and other sensors.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Navy Upgrading Radars on its Type 23 Frigates

The Navy's Type 23 frigates, the newest of eight surface warships in the fleet, will get new air defense radars. The Type 911 tracking radar spots targets at low elevations, such as sea-skimming missiles, and in cluttered environments. This was a shortcoming of the earlier Type 910 tracking radar. The 911 is linked to the Seawolf air-defense missile system. BAE Systems is getting about $5.25 million for the hardware and installation, which will be done in conjunction with Chile's Asmar shipyard. The two companies have already teamed up on maintenance and upgrade projects for the Navy's British-built frigates.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Soldiers Leaving Army for Better-Paying Jobs in Mining

Just as the armed forces face a shortage of volunteers, the Army is bleeding professional soldiers. Gen. Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba complained that an average of 126 soldiers each month have been leaving the Army for higher-paying jobs in the private sector. Most losses are in the north of Chile, where mining companies have lured soldiers with higher salaries. To the mining industry, soldiers are an attractive source of labor. They've acquired technical and professional skills in the Army, and they're used to working in adverse conditions. The Army sought 7,000 professional soldiers for 2012, although 6,726 were budgeted. Already, nearly 6,000 are in the Army, leaving about 750 that would be added from enlisted personnel. Professional soldiers became part of the Army in recent years, as increased use of technology made it necessary to have soldiers with training and experience in various systems. For years, the Air Force has suffered a similar problem. It has lost many pilots to commercial airlines, where salaries are many times that of the military.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Student Protests Force Military to Revive Draft

Although Chile has compulsory military service, for years no one has been forced into serving. That's because there have been plenty of young people wanting to serve voluntarily and to take advantage of the free education in the armed forces. But that's changing. Facing a 30% drop in volunteers for next year's conscription class, Direccion General de Mobilizacion Nacional called up 56,793 men from registration rolls. About 11,000 would need to be drafted, according to one report. The call-up is a consequence of student protests sweeping Chile, said Gen. Günther Siebert Wendt, the commander of mobilization. Volunteers are down because "not only are schools closed, but there's also no possibility of reaching schools to incentivize youths to sign up for military service," the general said. Still, Gen. Seibert said the armed forces hope to fill all positions with volunteers. Even if someone is drafted, it's easy to get a deferment or excuse. If you go in the Army or Air Force you'd serve 12 to 14 months. Navy conscripts serve for up to 24 months. Women are not drafted but can volunteer, as long as they are single and have no children.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

UAVs Given Policing Role As Border Control Becomes Key Focus

Defense Secretary Andres Allamand confirmed Chile has acquired unmanned aerial vehicles from Elbit Systems in a deal finalized during visits to Israel and Norway last month. The Hermes 900 UAVs will join Chile's efforts to beef up its border security, namely to curb illegal drug trafficking. The border with Bolivia is especially troublesome, with more than 100 unguarded passes. The Hermes UAVs can be equipped with optics such as thermal imaging cameras and other sensors for that task. Chile's defense and interior ministries have launched Plan Frontera Norte (Plan Northern Border), which includes purchasing ground radars, thermal imaging systems for land and sea surveillance, and command and control systems. The cost was put at $10 million, and the equipment will be handled by the national police. The plan is the latest example of how Chile's security focus is shifting from traditional defense to internal and C3 (command, control, communications) areas. Internal security problems such as education-reform protests and the rebellion of indigenous people are being handled in conventional ways (mainly riot control). But the fight against drugs takes high-tech equipment, which is where more funds are being allocated.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Navy Agrees to Acquire French Landing Ship

Chile's long flirtation with the French has finally come to fruition as the government finalized negotiations to purchase the amphibious landing ship Foudre. The ship could be in Chilean hands in the first half of 2012, the Navy confirmed, adding that the final contract will be signed in November. The cost reportedly was $80 million, according to reports, which sounds like a bargain for a ship of the Foudre's size and capability. Indeed, the acquisition represents a big leap in sealift and force projection power for Chile, which in January retired its 40-year-old Newport-class landing ship, the Valdivia. The Navy's sealift force was reduced to a pair of 1,400-ton landing ships and another two 770-ton vessels. The 12,000-ton Foudre can carry a batallion of 467 troops plus mechanized cavalry equipment, including as many as 100 vehicles and 22 Leopard II main battle tanks. Its deck and hangar can accomodate up to seven medium helicopters. The well dock can fit either 10 medium landing craft or one mechanised landing craft and four LCMs. In another important role, it can serve as the backbone of relief operations. The ship can squeeze as many as 1,600 people in disaster scenarios, and its hospital facilities include two operating rooms and 47 beds. The Foudre was commissioned in 1990, so it doesn't exactly have fresh sea legs. Still, sea transport is crucial for Chile to reach its island communities and isolated areas in a disaster, not to mention its peacekeeping force in Haiti. The massive 2010 earthquake and tsunami underscored the need for sea-based relief operations. For a couple of years, Chilean naval officers had expressed interest in the Foudre and similar ships that came on the market.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

More Details on the New M-109 Howitzers

The 12 M-109 self-propelled howitzers being refurbished by BAE Systems for delivery to Chile are of the M-109A5 model, a company executive told MercoPress. The model features the M284 155mm gun and M182 mount, which extend the firing range by 25% compared with the earlier version of the M-109. The upgrade work includes adding digital data connectivity and gun positioning and navigation systems. Where is the new artillery battalion headed? To the 3rd Armored Brigade near Antofagasta, a colonel told a news show. The MercoPress item also mentions that BAE worked on the upgrade of Chile's M-113s, a program that brought up those armored personnel carriers to the M-113A2 standard.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Getting a Read on Internal Security Issues

As protests continue, 2011 is going down as the most politically violent year in Chile since the return of democracy in 1990. For months, student groups have taken to the streets demanding reforms in the education system. Some protests turned quite violent, with students throwing rocks and molotov cocktails at police. At least one store was set ablaze during one riot. Police have responded with water cannon and tear gas, suffering scores of injuries and in a few cases even gunshot wounds. The shooting death of one teenager by police further inflamed protesters, some of whom are left-wing extremists happy to pound on the conservative government and destroy businesses. While the scenes from Santiago and other cities are dismaying, the country is far from being paralyzed. Protests are noisy and disruptive but not violent the majority of the time. Student and government leaders are in talks, which has cooled the crisis to some degree. Still, there are extremist elements that threaten to undermine the progress in negotiations. For example, Carabineros found bomb-making materials at one university. Meanwhile, the conflict with the native community shows no sign of abating. This month, Mapuche militants fired at police guarding a ranch that has been a flashpoint of the long conflict. In another recent incident, a rancher is accused of shooting a 13-year-old and wounding him after an altercation. Like the student conflict, the Mapuche war remains contained to certain troublespots in the south of Chile.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Crash of Air Force Plane Kills 21 Crew Members, Civilians

In one of the worst military aviation disasters in Chile's history, an Air Force plane with 21 on board crashed Friday, Sept. 2, near the Juan Fernandez islands. All on board are presumed dead. The island's mayor said the twin-engine CASA C-212 aborted its landing attempt amid high winds. On its second attempt, the plane veered off behind a hill and was never seen again. A day later, four bodies were found in waters south of the island, some 600 meters from the airstrip. Recovery efforts continued through the weekend, with the Navy putting its new C-295 Persuader maritime reconnaissance airplanes on the mission, in addition to two frigates, support vessels and helicopters. Civilian and Navy divers searched underwater for remains. The Air Force (FACH) deployed its own rescue team but, alas, a hydraulic problem forced one of its planes to return to Santiago. The crash is getting plenty of media coverage in Chile, increased by the fact that among the dead was a television personality and his news crew. The Television Nacional team was flying to the island to report on how Juan Fernandez villagers are recovering from the 2010 tsunami. Government cultural officials and members of an earthquake recovery group were also aboard. The C-212's pilot was Lt. Juan Pablo Mallea and the co-pilot was Lt.Carolina Fernández, one of the few female military aviators in Chile. The pilots and four other crew members were based at the Cerro Moreno base in the north of Chile. What could have gone wrong? Aside from the winds, there was no obvious cause. The plane had enough fuel for the 600 km flight from Santiago, and was not overloaded, FACH says. Update: After two days of fruitless search, complicated by heavy seas, more bodies and wreckage were found Tuesday, Sept. 6, in waters 7 km from the airstrip. The plane was a C-212 Series 300, tail number 966. It was the fourth accident in Chile since 1986 involving a C-212, which is used by all three branches of the armed forces. FACH says the plane did not miss its first landing attempt; it was a routine flyover of the runway to make sure it was clear to land. Winds recorded at the island were 25 knots and erratic, which would have affected the landing.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Netherlands Wraps Up Deliveries of F-16s

The final batch of used F-16 fighter jets for Chile's Air Force has made it to its new home. On Aug. 29, the last five planes left from the Netherlands, plus one more whose flight was delayed by a day. In total, 18 F-16s were purchased under a $270 million agreement in 2009. The first dozen planes were delivered in November 2010 and April of this year. The final deliveries give FACH 36 former Dutch F-16s. The planes, which have undergone the midlife upgrade program (MLU), include 29 of the "A" single-seat version plus seven two-seat "B" samples. The entire fleet of MLU-type F-16s is stationed at the Cerro Moreno air base near Antofagasta. The newer C/D version F-16s are based farther north, near Iquique.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Acquisition of M-109 Howitzers Moving Forward

There are tangible signs that Chile's long-planned purchase of U.S. self-propelled howitzers is becoming a reality. BAE Systems Land and Armaments, of York, Pa., was awarded a $7 million contract to refurbish a dozen M109A+ self-propelled howitzers for Chile, the U.S. Defense Department announced. Work is due to be completed in November, 2012. The howitzers were part of a larger acquisition announced in 2009 to re-equip mechanized artillery units. That included one batch of 12 M-109A3 and an additional dozen M-109A5. It's possible that one batch of M-109s has already been delivered. Chile's disclosures in the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms showed a 2009 purchase of 12 self-propelled howitzers, although it didn't specify the model. The Army's plan is to equip each of its armored brigades with its own mechanized artillery battalion. Two battalions, each with 12 M-109s, have been operational for a few years.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Shape of Things to Come

With the modernization of its warplanes, armor and warships essentially complete, Chile is turning its attention to improving its command, control and communications (C3) capabilities. The new acquisition of Hermes 900 UAVs, which include electro-optical equipment, is part of a program by the armed forces to expand intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems. Operated by the Air Force, the UAVs will -- among other things -- support land and coastal operations. Meanwhile, the 2010 purchase of 34 Man Portable MIDS-JTRS/HMS radios from General Dynamics make it possible for ground troops to link up directly with air-support aircraft. On a broader scale, Chile wants to purchase three Forward Area Air Defense Command and Control systems from Northrop Grumman. The system collects target information from sensors such as Sentinel radars and AWACS planes and integrates it into a comprehensive tactical picture. From there, commanders can send orders to their anti-aircraft units, ranging from man-portable heat-seeking missile units to Avenger mobile missile units (which also are planned for purchase). Radio, GPS and position location systems round out FAAD. Chile also is considering replacing its single Condor (Phalcon) airborne early warning radar aircraft, and has been reviewing the C-295 AEW from Airbus Military and Israel Aerospace Industries, according to Jane's Defence Weekly. The plane fits with FACH's preference for a turboprop platform for this role, and the Navy already operates the C-295 Persuader maritime reconnaissance plane.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Asmar Shipyard Workers End Strike

About 1,000 workers agreed to an offer for higher wages and a one-time bonus, ending their monthlong work stoppage. Although the workers did not get as large a raise as they hoped, they nonetheless achieved an important goal: For the first time, the workers of a company owned by the Defense Ministry reached a collective bargaining agreement.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Another Disaster, Another Mission

One good thing about engineer and logistic units is that they can be put to practical use even when there's no combat or training. With Chile battling the "white earthquake," a devastating snowy season, army units have been busy providing aid. Earlier this month, for example, troops broke through to a town in the area of Quinquén (in the south of Chile) that had been isolated for a week. In the north, where rare snowstorms caught everyone by surprise, an army patrol marched 11 hours to rescue a bus with Bolivians that was stuck in the snow. Air force UH-1H helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft have flown in relief supplies to various communities. But every disaster exposes a shortcoming, and in this case it's the concentration of military helicopters in strategic areas, such as Punta Arenas in the extreme south, Santiago and the air bases in Antofagasta and Iquique. Helicopter units have been moved quickly, however, to trouble spots in earlier disasters.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Security Problem Along Bolivia's Border

While the crime rate is down in Chile, it's been climbing in the area of Iquique, one of the largest cities west of Bolivia. In fact, it has the country's highest crime rate. A porous 365-kilometer border has made it easy for drugs to flow into Chile from Bolivia, and for stolen vehicles to enter Bolivia from Chile. Of more than 80 crossings along the border, only three are legal and have police checkpoints. Now, the government is asking Chile's army for help. The plan is to have army engineers dig trenches and other obstacles to slow the flow of traffickers and illegal aliens. Video cameras will be installed to better monitor the region. But officials are getting some pushback from the army. An unnamed representative of the joint chiefs of staff told government officials that the army's doctrine prohibits it from taking part in anti-drug operations. It's not clear if that includes digging obstacles. Indeed, the security along the border is largely the responsibility of the national police. Carabineros act as the border patrol. They now operate a King Air B200G airplane with imaging equipment to watch over the extensive desert region. They could go shopping for more equipment.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Peacekeeping Force Gets a Mobile City

Chile has acquired an extensive logistical support system for its joint peacekeeping force with Argentina. The acquisition involves dozens of containers and tents for lodging, medical care, command posts, kitchens, dining halls, laundry facilities, bathrooms, refrigeration equipment, repair shops, water purification and desalination systems, a gym and other gear to make living on the combat zone more tolerable. The mobile facilities are enough to sustain 800 personnel in just about any part of the world, says ARPA, the Spanish manufacturer. Chile's purchase includes facilities and systems to support air operations. Chile and Argentina have conduction joint exercises as they continue forming their task force. The cost of the purchase was not disclosed.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mapuche Uprising Back in Force

Mapuche extremists broke a period of calm, mounting an attack on truckers in the south of Chile on July 8. Several hooded individuals fired shotguns and forced drivers who were sleeping inside their trucks along a road to exit their vehicles. The attackers then set fire to the four logging trucks. They also tried to attack a passing ambulance, but it managed to escape. It is presumed the attackers were Mapuche radicals, members of the indigenous people who have been waging a war of terror in hopes of reclaiming ancestral lands. The uprising -- which has tended to target logging, ranching and police in the  region -- poses one of the biggest security problems for Chilean officials. The attack followed a July 1 shooting at police officers guarding a ranch that has been attacked multiple times. Meanwhile, a judge released five Mapuche activists who had been accused of murder.

Another Setback for Asmar Shipyard

The navy's shipyard -- trying to get back on its feet after being wiped out in the February 2010 tsunami -- is dealing with another big problem. Workers have gone on strike, halting work at the yard for about a month now. There's been no word from Asmar on any project delays, but the strike is certainly not what the company needed. Workers are seeking higher wages. An interesting twist is that the workers' union accused the navy of using marines to halt a protest march. The way the union chief tells it, the naval zone's commander rejected a protest on the naval base's grounds and threatened to use troops if it was carried out. The union marched to the base's gates, where they were met by armed marines. The navy confirmed it denied permission for the protest, citing navy regulations. But it denies being heavy-handed.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Polemic Voyage of the Esmeralda

The Navy's sail training ship is making history by having women sailors on board its instructional cruise for the first time. Of 314 crew members, 47 are women. Three are instructional officers, including one from Colombia's navy and one from Ecuador's. Two female sailors from Uruguay's navy were invited, too. While Chile fosters an image of gender equality and cooperation with other nations, the four-month voyage is not always getting good publicity. A group of Chileans who escaped from Gen. Augusto Pinochet's rule and settled in Canada are protesting the Esmeralda's arrival in western Canadian ports this August. They cite investigations that showed the ship was used as a detention and torture center. This is not exactly new. In prior years, the Esmeralda's docking at various ports has triggered protests. Nearly 40 years have passed since the human rights abuses took place, yet protesters continue to aim their anger at sailors who weren't even born when these events took place. At the same time, you have to wonder: What in the world was the Navy thinking by using a gorgeous sail ship and a symbol of national pride as a detention center?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bolivian Troops Cross Into Chile

A Bolivian army patrol strayed into Chilean territory, where police intercepted it and took the 14 soldiers into custody. All indications are that it was an accidental crossing, and the two countries are resolving the manner as cordially as could be expected. Chile sent a formal complaint to La Paz; Bolivia's government called it an isolated incident. Nonetheless, press reports reveal some surprising aspects of the Bolivian force. The patrol, for example, was in military uniforms but was riding civilian vehicles -- with Chilean license plates. Most of the troops were in a Toyota van and the rest in a Daihatsu SUV. Police first spotted the van around 2 am Friday, June 17, about 270 km northeast of Iquique, then the SUV. The 14 Bolivians were poorly armed, with a total of three 9mm pistols and two 5.56mm assault rifles. Chile's police treated the incident as an illegal immigrant crossing, and sent the Bolivians to a judge for questioning and likely deportation. Bolivia's government says it had recently beefed up patrols along the Chilean border to combat the smuggling of stolen vehicles into Bolivia. In fact, the Toyota and the Daihatsu had been confiscated from smugglers. While the incident is working itself out, it comes at a tense time, just as Bolivia intensifies efforts to win back access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia lost its coastal territory in the 1879-1883 war against Chile. UPDATE: The patrol was returned to Bolivia on Sunday, June 19, without charges. Bolivia's government maintains no harm was meant, and that the patrol wandered into Chile in an area where the border is not clearly marked. The daily La Tercera, quoting Chile's foreign ministry, says accidental Bolivian and Peruvian troop crossings aren't that unusual, with at least three incidents occurring in recent years. Regarding the Chilean-registered vehicles the soldiers were using, Bolivia says the troops took control of them after being abandoned by smugglers.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Voters in Peru elected Ollanta Humala as their next president, sending shock waves through Chile. Humala, of course, is the leftist politician who frequently has expressed hostility toward Chile. He wants Chile to apologize for a recent case of espionage and for policies in the past the he believes harmed Peru. As a former army officer, Humala trained to fight a war with Chile -- another fact not lost on Chileans. During his political campaign, the nationalist Humala adopted a softer tone than when he unsuccessfully ran for president in 2006. He distanced himself from Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. But is this kinder and gentler Humala for real, or just a product of political necessity? Humala's post-election comments so far are conciliatory. A key milestone in Chile-Peru relations will be the ruling in the International Court over Peru's claims over its maritime border with Chile. Humala says he'll abide by whatever ruling the court makes.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Navy Keeping P-3 Orions Fit

Chile's navy is not necessarily giving up on its P-3 Orion maritime reconnaissance aircraft. An aviation engineering company in New Zealand just conducted an eight-month refit for one of the planes, an indication that Chile plans to keep at least some of the P-3s flying for many years. This came to light with news of trouble during a test flight in New Zealand. According to the company's website, Safe Air has done maintenance work on four Chilean P-3A3 Orions and it calls Chile one of its key maintenance customers. The Navy has plans to replace its P-3 fleet with EADS/CASA C-295 Persuader aircraft, although not immediately. Chile acquired eight Orions from U.S. surplus inventories in 1992-94, according to the SIPRI arms transfers database. Four have been kept for spares, and one was converted into a transport plane, leaving three for maritime patrol. The planes were delivered without most sensors, but in 2003 Chile purchased three AN/APS-115 radars, a standard for the P-3 fleet. The radar searches the sea surface and can detect submarines at shallow depths. Update: A story in Jane's Defence Weekly notes that the P-3 overhauled in New Zealand has more structural damage than expected and will need more work. This has caused the Navy to rethink its plans to extend the service life of its Orions and consider using its options to purchase more C-295s.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Friendly Fire of the Worst Kind

Protesters angry over a controversial energy project turned their aggression against military units on parade for the traditional May 21 celebrations in Chile. In a shameful ambush, protesters started throwing rocks at naval and army cadets, marching bands and other personnel who clearly have nothing to do with the energy project. HidroAysen is a major dam to be built in an ecologically sensitive area of southern Chile. The May 21 attack followed an incident in which a group of police officers, clearly not equipped for a mob, was attacked with Molotov cocktails and assorted objects, leaving one cop in serious condition (see video). The government temporarily banned the use of tear gas to break up rioters, in response to complaints that the gas may cause health hazards. The ban lasted all of three days, as the government announced that studies found the gas to be perfectly safe.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Report: Chile Acquires Hermes 900 UAVs

Chile has agreed to purchase a number of Hermes 900 unmanned aerial vehicles for its military, according to Flight International. Details are still sketchy. Elbit, the Israeli company that makes the Hermes line of UAVs, declined to confirm the deal. Chile's air force and army went with the Hermes 900 over a rival offer for Israel Aerospace Industries' Heron system, the magazine said. The Hermes 900 is one of the beefier UAVs in the market, in a class similar to the U.S.-built Predator drone. The 900 can operate long-range missions using either direct-link or satellite connections to its ground control station. The all-weather UAV has a maximum payload of 300 kg for missions such as infra-red imaging, laser targeting, communications links and electronic warfare. UPDATE: Elbit will supply ground control stations and various payload systems as part of the deal, according to an Israeli business publication. The main role for the Chilean Hermes 900s will be reconnaissance. Elbit's press release mentions a sale to a Latin American customer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Military Budget Revamp Sent to Legislature, Again

President Sebastián Piñera on May 17 sent to Chile's legislature a bill that eliminates the so-called copper law, a funding mechanism that provided the armed forces with billions of dollars from copper sales. In its place, the Ministry of Defense will have a broad 12-year defense-spending budget, subject to revisions under each new four-year presidential administration. Under such long-term strategic plans, the hope is that Chile will reach consensus on military goals. Piñera is basically repeating what former president Michele Bachelet did during her term. Her proposal was never approved. The abandonment of the copper law has its critics. Some believe the timing is bad, given that a leftist politician known for his anti-Chile rhetoric is in a run-off for president of Peru. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mine Removal Going Slowly

Defense officials estimate it will take another eight years to remove thousands of land mines that remain near Chile's border with Peru and Bolivia. The arduous task has already been going on for years, ever since Chile signed on the 1997 Ottawa Treaty on eliminating all land mines. Defense Secretary Andrés Allamand said he expect the mine clearing to take eight more years. He acknowledged the task began slowly but added that it has accelerated in the past five years. Last month, the president of the Chilean Senate said 100,000 antipersonnel mines and 150,000 antitank mines remain buried in the desert, plus some unexploded munitions.The mines were planted in northern border area and the far south of Chile in the late 1970s, when Peru and Argentina threatened war. About 150 people have died after stepping on Chilean mines.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Volunteer Force of Draftees

While Chile maintains a compulsory military service, the fact of the matter is that all men and women serve voluntarily. That's because there are so many young people eager to enlist, there never is a shortage of recruits. This year, the armed forces have 21,000 applicants -- far more than the 11,000 needed. Among women, 5,600 applied for just 1,000 openings. So commanders can afford to be picky about who gets in the army, navy or air force. Why the love for the military? For one, the armed forces provide training in fields that can translate to civilian jobs. In fact, it's fair to say that Chile's military is the country's largest trade school. The danger of hostilities breaking out with a neighboring country is remote, so no one feels the risk of becoming a casualty. Conscripts are chosen at random from registration rolls, but many enroll themselves. In many cases, they can choose which branch of the military in which to serve (women can enlist only in the army, though they can be officers in all three branches), and even the location of their 12-month military service.

Monday, April 18, 2011

3rd Armored Brigade Open for Business

The army's 3rd Armored Brigade has inaugurated its new installations in the north of Chile. The base, located about 15 miles north of Antofagasta, ushers in not just a new location but a marked improvement in equipment. Gone are the Leopard 1 tanks. The new backbone of the brigade is a battalion of Leopard 2 tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles. On another front, the base marks the latest step in a long reorganization for the army, one in which it is transforming itself from a series of regiments into several self-sustained divisions. Sprawled over 67 acres, the base also serves as a training ground for the brigade. Photos of the armored units were posted on the army's Flicker page.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Anxious Moments for the Generals

Chile's military brass faces the most drastic changes since perhaps 1990, when it relinquished power to an elected government. Cuts to its acquisition budget, greater scrutiny and generally more control by civilian leaders loom for the commanders. A new Council on Military Investments will have oversight over all defense spending. The so-called copper law, which has provided billions for military hardware over the past decade, is set to be replaced by a more modest budget. Some politicians are questioning how long Chilean peacekeeping troops will remain in the Haiti. So under a tense environment, the chiefs of each branch of the armed forces had a face-to-face with new Minister of Defense Andres Allamand. But there was a thaw after a proposal from Allamand. The minister suggested that the armed forces take control of various investigations on questionable deals, but deal with each one effectively, according to accounts of the meeting. Another interesting point in the meeting was Allamand's characterization of future defense spending: "Now, political criteria will have priority." In other words, expect the civilian government to frame Chile's arsenal and military objectives.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Army Abandons Gepard Air Defense System

Chile's army has given up on the Gepard air-defense system, deciding to return the only four vehicles it ever received. The Gepards -- a self-propelled 35 mm cannon system with tracking and search radars -- were found to be in poor condition, and upgrading them would be too costly, reports said. Chile was supposed to have acquired 30 second-hand Gepards. It took delivery of the first four in October 2008. Reports in Seguranca & Defesa and Intelligence, Defense & Security said the army is focusing on acquiring a U.S.-made air defense system. The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced last year an offer for the Forward Area Air Defense Command and Control Intelligence System, armed with Avenger missile launchers.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Details Emerge on Leopard 2, Marder Acquisitions

Chile paid 250,000 euros for each of 60 Leopard 2 tanks it acquired from Germany in 2009, according to a story in the German magazine Der Spiegel. The list price for Leopard 2s is around 3 million euros. But Chile spent 83 million euros on upgrades and repairs for the second-hand tanks. The cost for each Marder infantry fighting vehicle was 50,000 euros, compared to nearly 400,000 euros for a brand new Marder. But these vehicles were not in good shape, Der Spiegel noted. The magazine put the number of Marders purchased at 146, slightly more than the 138 previously reported. While the story mentioned 60 Leopard 2 tanks, the total purchase was for 132 tanks.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Leaked Document Confirms Arms Deals with Israel, U.S.

A briefing written by staff of the U.S. embassy in Santiago details a number of Chilean defense acquisitions that have never been officially confirmed. The confidential document, released by WikiLeaks, is nearly two years old, but reveals significant purchases and assistance deals. The bullet points:
  • The air force bought some AGM65 G2 Maverick air-to-ground missiles and GBU 10/12 Paveway laser-guided bombs, which were delivered starting in 2007.
  • FACH also has bought Derby and Python 4 air-to-air missiles from Israel for F-5 and F-16 fighter jets. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has reported this acquisition, although FACH has never admitted it.
  • The purchases of Sidewinder and AMRAAM air-to-air missiles plus JDAM systems, already disclosed, are mentioned. 
  • The U.S. offered Chile a pair of surplus KC-135 tanker planes for $42 million. But FACH declined and agreed to buy Airbus A-310 MRTT jets instead. (As it turned out, FACH canceled the Airbus deal and went back to the Pentagon to buy three KC-135 planes.)
  • Chile's navy ordered the SM-1 missile system for its Type 22 frigate, the Almirante Williams.
  • The navy wants to upgrade to the SM-2 missile system on its L Class frigates, which currently are equipped with the SM-1.
  • The KIT-1C MODE IV IFF (a friend-or-foe identification system) was purchased for the Cougar naval helicopters.
  • Marines have acquired the C2PC Command and Control system, a battlefield visualization software used by the USMC.
  • The document also discusses potential purchases that have been made public, including the Avenger air-defense system, Sentinel radars and M109A5 self-propelled howitzers.
The embassy staff also praised Chile's commitment and professional conduct of its peacekeeping missions, notably the effort in Haiti. The U.S. has provided some assistance to those forces. "We provided helmets, flak jackets and other accessories, vehicle spare parts, and water purification equipment," the embassy staff wrote. The U.S. also provided 10 Humvees and $1 million to Chile's army to improve English-language proficiency.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Armed Forces as International Financiers

A huge fund for weapons acquisitions is no longer in the hands of a defense panel but under the control of Chile's finance ministry. The ministries of defense and finance agreed to the shift in recent weeks in a step toward more transparency in military spending. This followed a series of questionable expenditures. (See previous post.) The funds will be invested abroad in a move that could help keep the Chilean peso lower. Specifically, the military's money will be placed in a portfolio that mirrors Chile's foreign investment fund, which was created to curb inflationary pressures at home. Under a decades-old law, the state-owned copper company, Codelco, transfers 10% of foreign sales to Chile's armed forces for weapons programs. How much is in the fund is secret, but it has been estimated at upwards of $3 billion. Just in the first nine months of 2010, Codelco passed through to the Defense Ministry $866 million. The government, though, is moving to eliminate that funding source and replace it with a general fund.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Investigations Target Military, Ex-Commander

Chile's armed forces, which generally have kept themselves out of trouble during civilian rule, are facing a series of corruption probes. The alleged misdeeds include trying to buy a $1 million home for the chairman of the joint chiefs, a questionable purchase of a temporary bridge (see earlier post) and nepotism in the air force. The air force is handling accusations that former commander Ricardo Ortega's wife was paid twice for accompanying her husband on trips while also serving as an air force doctor. Also, authorities are checking out a trip to Haiti by Ortega's daughter and a scholarship for his son. Even if the investigations don't result in formal charges, a backlash is already unfolding: Some politicians are pressing the armed forces for greater transparency.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Navy Retires Main Landing Ship

After 16 years of service in Chile's navy, the 8,775-ton LST Valdivia has been retired. The decommissioning comes as the navy seeks an amphibious assault ship or multirole vessel to replace it. The Valdivia provided a key transportation link with Chilean peacekeeping force in Haiti. It also brought hundreds of tons of relief aid to areas devastated by last year's major earthquake. The ship was built in 1971 and served in the U.S. Navy as the USS San Bernardino until 1995, when it was transferred to Chile. Without the Valdivia, Chile's transport fleet is reduced to four smaller ships displacing 780 to 1,400 tons each.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Defense Chief in Tiff with Transparency Panel

When last year's earthquake destroyed a bridge in Chile's Bio Bio region, the Defense Ministry pitched in by purchasing a temporary bridge for $16 million from a U.S. company. But a British rival complained that its $14 million bid should have won. So now, a government panel has taken Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet to task over the bridge. Ravinet's response: The bridge was a military purchase, entitled to secrecy, and he doesn't have to say anything about it to the government transparency committee. Ravinet took his argument one step further, threatening that if military acquisitions are laid bare, the armed forces will be reluctant to provide assistance in future natural disasters. While some generals politely disagreed with the minister, Ravinet has backed off a bit. He later said the issue is not the bridge, but keeping confidental the military purchases made with proceeds from the state-owned copper company. The dispute, thus, raises a political question: To what degree can a transparency panel force the military to disclose its bidding and acquisition process? UPDATE: Ravinet resigned on Thursday, Jan. 13. The No. 2 official in the ministry will take over on an interim basis.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Chile's Army and the Need for a New Urban Warfare Doctrine in 2012

“Wars tend to draw troops into urban areas. Cities have historically played an important role in military campaigns because roads and rail lines usually intersect in cities, and ports and airfields are frequently located near major metropolitan centers. Movement into a theater through ports and airfields, or within a theater on roads or rail, requires the control of major cities.”
-- Urban Warfare: Options, problems and the future. Daryl G. Press, January 1999 (MIT Security Studies Conference.)

By Jose Miguel Pizarro
It appears that MIT was quite right. Today more than 60 wars are being fought around the world and few of them are between nation states. Ninety percent of these conflicts are between irregular or guerilla forces fighting asymmetrically against traditional or conventional units inside cities, villas and other populated areas. Irregular warfare therefore is irregular not in the sense that it is uncommon (it is exactly the opposite) but in the literal sense that irregular warfare it is against the rules of war. And since these rules of combat are set by formal governments and their military establishments -- to favor their high-tech equipment and doctrine of operations -- irregular warfare is likely to remain the preferred choice for non-state armed groups and others who have nothing to gain from “playing by the rules.” Especially when those rules were specifically designed to crush them and to only favor their adversaries. Kind of logical, right?
Yet to my surprise current Chilean Army doctrine largely ignores the urban environment except within the context of small-scale, platoon- and company-level stability and support operations. Not urban warfare. When it does address it, existing Chilean doctrine primarily examines the tactical level of warfare and presents urban conflict in isolated pamphlets that essentially describe urban warfare as a series of irrelevant squad-unit actions designed to seize individual rooms -- or lightly defended buildings -- in the outskirts of a small villa. It seems to be a side-show designed to capture some “colorful” guerrilla leader purely for PR purposes. Little or no attention is given to the conduct of large-scale land operations on complex urban terrain or to the need for joint and institutional doctrine and the obvious integration requirements associated with it.
Then, why would the army of a modern and wealthy country like Chile ignore this reality?
Between now and the year 2020 the military forces of Chile will almost certainly find themselves involved in combat against one or more of its neighbors. Such involvement will come (initially) in the form of a major conventional conflict but then will gradually evolve into a series of simultaneous campaigns against irregular and guerrilla forces seeking battle inside urban areas. Urban warfare is a deadly business and a growing prospect for future conflicts as global urbanization trends continue to spiral out of control. Furthermore, fighting in the streets is a lucrative tactic for third-world nations and irregular factions who are incapable of fighting more conventionally against a large opponent armed with advanced weaponry and mechanized forces.
Generally, we all know that tanks have a number of characteristics that limit their use in confined areas. Their weaponry is not situated for a close-in fight, particularly to the sides and rear, where they cannot engage targets. The main guns are often too long to traverse fully in narrow streets, and the small vision blocks severely restrict target acquisition. Armor is often thin on the top, flanks, and rear, and extremely thin on the undersides. The latter makes tanks exceptionally vulnerable to mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) so common in a city fight. Therefore, the very design that makes a tank a feared weapon on the open battlefield renders it vulnerable in the close confines of a city. When using this extremely risk-adverse mentality it is no wonder why civilian leaders and military planners want to avoid committing large armor forces to urban battles. But then again, if you think like that, why are we sending dismounted infantry troops into battle? Could some of them get hurt? Instead, why don’t we put every single soldier inside of an armored vehicle and avoid any possible engagement with enemy troops inside urban areas? I know, it is absurd. But absurd is also the decision of the Chilean army not to train and prepare for urban warfare.
The duty of a soldier is to fight the enemy under our terms, use our firepower and technology in a smart way and to deny our opponent the access to urban areas, where he can control the population. Despite all of the previous restrictions, modern armies have successfully employed tanks in cities over the years. That's because despite their potential shortcomings, the tank is still the most effective all-weather weapon system capable of bringing precision heavy ordnance to a target. Meaning? In plain English: That’s a 120mm high explosive (HE) round usually achieving 100% destruction with the first hit and within seconds of acquiring the target. It certainly beats getting into the net and waiting 15 to 30 minutes for the air force to drop a bomb -- usually in the wrong building.
The battle for Fallujah was a fine example of using tanks to support the infantry in the urban fight. By November 2004 the U.S. Marine Corps infantry forces were veteran troops, and although not specifically trained for urban operations, these forces had developed the necessary tactics and skills to attack the fortifications of a guerrilla force entrenched deep inside a city. But remember, this was no ordinary urban battle. The Marine forces faced a formidable adversary equipped with more than 6,000 fighters armed with everything from anti-tank weapons, sniper rifles and AP mines to mortars and rockets. But Marine commanders were lucky. They were leading probably the finest and best trained infantry units in the western world, and within a few days they had a plan to capture the entire city. Tank and mechanized forces were also adept at cooperating with supporting infantry and fire support (i.e; antitank helicopters and 155mm field artillery) at that stage of the war. These combined experiences were quickly and successfully adapted to the city fight. The command and control displayed by the U.S. Marines was methodical, extremely organized but effective in coordinating the battle. The vulnerable M1A1 tanks and the LAVs were effective as long as their infantry support shielded them from the dreaded RPG-7s. The isolation of the guerrilla defenders and the rapid movements of the marine rifle companies disrupted the insurgent defense and hastened the conclusion of the fight for Fallujah. The battle for Fallujah is perhaps the most successful example for the use of heavy armor in an urban environment. Well-led veteran forces were able to crush quickly their opposition by boldly using tanks and IFVs to spearhead the assault. The shock and speed proved great enough to disrupt the enemy defense, which was never able to recover to make a coordinated stand.
Ideally, the preparation for urban combat begins during peacetime. The need to revolutionize the way the Chilean Army train for urban operations is almost universally acknowledged by younger officers. Accordingly, we need to develop the capability to conduct large-scale, joint urban operations on a scale similar to the exercises conducted at the end of the year during division-level maneuvers. Given the current impracticality of creating several large, realistic urban training facilities for every single division, the army should plan on creating a national training center for urban operations in the north of the country. We should be willing to commit the resources necessary to create a large scale urban training center that uses advanced training technologies to integrate live, rifle-company-level, combat-in-the-cities training with realistic battalion and brigade level exercises under the direction of a joint command and control center. Also, to properly prepare for urban combat in the 21st century the Chilean army must study and truly understand the various scenarios, options, constraints, limitations, legal factors, and city characteristics of each potential battlefield. Political leaders and military planners must remember that each urban operation will be unique and there is simply no standard urban operation as no two cities are alike.
The political challenge:
Political leaders must remember the “remarkable trinity” of Clausewitz’s theory of war and keep in mind that combat in urbanized areas is both costly and time consuming. For Clausewitz the government, the military and the people form a triangular relationship in which all three sides are equally relevant – and in which all three must be kept in balance if war is to succeed. Let’s use the Chilean case for instance.
The Government: (Get smart on modern warfare) In urban warfare the presence of a noncombatant population provides concealment for indigenous combatants or disruptive elements that can seriously restrict the employment of heavy weapons. Whether the mission is one of humanitarian aid, peacekeeping, or combat, urban terrain favors the use of ground forces, especially infantry, because the use of mechanized forces is often politically restricted. A political leader who doesn’t understand the type of war he or she is fighting will allow the enemy to win the war by simply ordering the Chilean army not to enter the cities.
The Military: (Train for the next war… not for the last one) Urbanized terrain tends to complicate the employment of armor, artillery, and close air support. If poorly trained in MOUT operations a modern and well equipped mechanized force like the Chilean army can be easily slaughtered in the streets and alleys of a small town or medium-size city. Poorly equipped, badly trained and lightly armed the logistical units and support columns are especially vulnerable to this type of fight.
The People: (Keep them informed) Moreover, and because of the compartmentalized nature of the terrain, an urban battlefield can absorb much greater numbers of troops than open terrain. In urban warfare combat tends to take place at extremely short range between small units, leading to greater reliance on small-unit leadership and proficiency. As a result, if poorly informed regarding the type of war the army is fighting, the Chilean people could very quickly turn against the war when seeing the numbers of troops being deployed from only 30,000 exploding to more than 120,000 in less than one year. Then, surprise could easily turn to rage if casualties start mounting to 1,000 men or more per month. Especially when the Chilean people were told that this was a short and an easy war.
The Nature of future urban combat:
The past 20 years of urban combat shows that the mobility of tanks and armored vehicles, along with their protective armor, allowed the delivery of their heavy firepower into the fight for the cities. Maintaining mobility is vital to the effectiveness of tanks and to their survival. The obvious tactic is to provide a robust combat engineer effort to clear debris, rubble, and armor hulks, and to eliminate mines and improvised explosives from the paths of advancing armor. The most graphic example of the failure to do so was the Russians in Grozny. Once trapped in the narrow streets, even the advanced T-80 tanks were vulnerable to the simple RPG-7. If stationary, even the most capable tank becomes a pillbox with limited angles of fire in narrow streets and alleys. The fight for Fallujah is a dramatic example of a rapid armored advance that disrupted the enemy's defense and allowed a rapid victory. For the Chilean army an effective means to maintain mobility of its Leopard 2 formations is to disrupt the enemy's fire plan by the application of maneuver, firepower, or obscurants. A high operational tempo would also challenge an enemy's ability to react and engage. These methods require an intimate knowledge of the capabilities of units and weapons on urban terrain. Chilean commanders and staffs must understand the advantages and disadvantages urbanization offers to mechanized formations and its effects on tactical operations. An operation based on maneuver could avoid one based on an attrition strategy and prevent heavy friendly losses. But to reach these conclusions history reminds us that an army requires prior operational experience and years of training.
Logistics… logistics… logistics…
Conducting a high-tempo operation over a sustained period will require a massive logistical effort, particularly in the resupply of ammunition. In a “target-rich environment” like urban combat ammunition goes fast. Fuel is also of great concern, as the consumption rate of the Leopard 2 engines is notoriously high. In some urban battles the attacking force had no such plan and was forced to withdraw tanks from the front lines to refuel and rearm. Just for a few hours. The infantry units fighting their way to the center of the city keenly felt the temporary loss of this combat power. Flexible command and control and an effective intelligence operation are also vital elements in a highly fluid battle for the streets.
Regardless of our personal feelings, military operations in large cities will continue to be more common as the world urbanizes, and extremely more deadly with the introduction of new fourth-generation weapons. Accordingly, Chilean planners will need to make do with the Leopard 2 tanks, as there is nothing more effective right now in the Chilean inventory to bring precision heavy fire into the cities. Simultaneously, it is unlikely that a single technology or system will emerge in the near future that will dramatically swing the balance to the attacker in the cities. Instead, an effective solution to the urban fight will only be attained through the integration of strategic concepts, doctrine, operational needs, technological advances, force design, and the appropriate organization of command, control, training, and education. There is no doubt in my mind that tanks and armored vehicles will play a vital role in the urban fights of the future. In consequence we need to radically modify the way we train and fight.
However, to do this right and to properly prepare the Chilean army for urban warfare we need to accept that there are no shortcuts, easy rides or “golden bullets”. Chilean army doctrine and combat unit training require addressing a specific set of skills to fight in the cities and urgently define a new doctrine of operations to fight in urban areas that doesn’t even exist in our training manuals. The challenge of this new doctrine? It must also be a doctrine of operations that is flexible enough to adapt quickly to a host of possible urban situations. Considering historical trends, the fight for the streets is often decided at the crew and platoon level. We are talking corporals and second lieutenants. Yet there exist political considerations, legal limitations, infrastructure, and evolving enemy methods that are beyond the ability of the junior Chilean army leaders to research and incorporate into their training and operations. Our duty is to help them during peace time with realistic training but a training process based on a robust doctrine of operations.
Understanding the nature of urban warfare is a difficult task for any army, and the tasks required to sufficiently sustain or support urban combat are enormous. But with one possible exception. All of the examples in modern warfare show mechanized armies attacking cities without extensive training in urban operations. Each of the attacks was ultimately successful, either because of a high degree of skill or experience in small unit tactics or due to a large application of heavy firepower. To bridge the gap between peacetime training and commitment to the battle on the street, the Chilean Army must fully embrace the concept of using armor in urban warfare and prepare accordingly.  But they need to do it right now, before it is too late. Remember, the clock of history is ticking. 

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: