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.