Saturday, December 8, 2012

Army's First UAV Takes Flight

The Army has conducted the first test flights of a new unmanned aerial vehicle, its first domestically produced UAV. The Lascar UAV is a two-engine aircraft with an optics payload that can be used for reconnaissance missions and to monitor brush fires and other natural disasters. Little else is known about the UAV, which has been in development since 2008 under a partnership with the Universidad de Concepcion and private companies. The Lascar is not the only UAV produced in Chile. The Navy has been developing the Mantarraya UAV. The projects are a reminder that Chile has fully embraced UAVs and is determined to build up its inventory of such aircraft. Already, the Air Force has acquired the Hermes 900 long-endurance UAV,

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Chile Moves on Attack Helicopter, Jet Trainer Acquisitions

Boeing AH-6i
The Army is evaluating three types of light attack helicopters as it tries to fill one of the final gaps of its combat modernization. The models under consideration are the Eurocopter EC 635, the Bell 407 AH and the Boeing AH-6i, according to Defense Market Intelligence. The AH-6i begins trials this month in Chile. The Army has extensive experience operating a forerunner of the AH-6i, the MD 530, which the Army is seeking to replace as its standard scout helicopter. Eurocopter should be considered a strong contender, too, given its prior sales to the Army and Navy. All three models under review would have greater weapons capabilities than the MD 530 plus electronics and optical equipment. The Army has upgraded its armor, artillery, infantry, logistics and engineer units, leaving air defense and attack helicopters as the final pieces of its modernization strategy. Meanwhile, the Air Force is getting more serious about acquiring a batch of advanced trainers. FACh is expected to issue a request for information from various manufacturers by year end, according to Jane's Defence Weekly. A formal request for proposals would follow in 2013, with a selection later that year and deliveries starting in 2016. FACh is seeking to replace its fleet of A/T-36 planes, which have become costly to operate. An analysis in the blog Noticias FFAA Chile says the planes under possible consideration include the M-346 from Alenia Aermacchi, the T-50 from Korea Aerospace Industries, the AI-63 Pampa II built in Argentina, the Yakovlev YAK-130, the Hawk LIFT from BAE Systems and L-15 from China's Hongdu Aviation Industry. Alenia Aermacchi might have an edge in the competition because the company and FACh's Enaer agreed in 2008 to jointly market the M-346 and the M-311 in Latin America.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

More Equipment Mobilized Against Mapuches

Secretary of Interior Andres Chadwick said police will get more equipment to fight extremist Mapuches, as the new minister strikes a get-tough tone on the conflict with the indigenous group. Chadwick did not specify the new equipment, although he hinted at electronic gear. Chadwick also announced Nov. 23 he would travel to the areas most affected by Mapuche violence to push the government's two-pronged strategy: Extremists will be met with the full force of the law, but officials will work with peaceful Mapuche groups on a redress of their grievances. The conflict flares up from time to time, with sporadic attacks that sometimes involve firearms. For example, earlier this month a bus with elderly men was ambushed and shot at in the early morning hours. Logging companies and ranchers are often targets; they are seen as the beneficiaries of lands taken from the Mapuches. Chadwick, who was elevated to the post after his predecessor was named the new Minister of Defense, is the cabinet member responsible for Chile's national police and internal security. For more background, a Chilean television show recently aired a documentary on the conflict.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Goodbye, C 212

The Army is phasing out its remaining CASA C 212-100 light transport planes, a model that became stigmatized after a fatal Air Force crash last year. The three planes have logged an average of 6,000 flight hours and have been in the Army since 1978, Gen. Ivan Gonzalez, the head of the Army Aviation Brigade, told La Tercera. Maintenance costs have soared, and plans are to put the planes up for sale and to seek a replacement. A fourth plane was lost in a 1995 crash. Gonzalez said the Army also is trying to replace a pair of Cessna T-41 single-engine planes used for pilot instruction. The C 212 became the symbol of one of the worst air disasters in Chilean history, in September 2011. The plane, operated by the Air Force, was lost at sea as it tried to land on the Juan Fernandez island. Twenty-one persons, including the FACH crew and a team of civilians, were killed. The crashed was blamed mainly on erratic winds and the plane's low altitude, but the C 212's maintenance also came under scrutiny during the investigation. The tragedy clouded the future of the C 212 in Chile, and more could be headed for retirement. The Navy operates a few C 212s as well.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Asmar Shipyard Cashes in on Ecuador Submarines

Asmar has completed the refit of Ecuador's SS Shyri, a Type 209-1300 submarine that began its upgrade in 2008. The sub is undergoing sea trials while a second Type 209 sub, the Huancavilca, will continue its refit until the expected delivery date of February 2014. Ecuador is spending $125 million on the upgrade of both submarines. That's a healthy bit of business for Asmar, which has picked itself back up after being devastated in the February 2010 earthquake and tsunami. Chile's Navy has a pair of Type 209 subs that have undergone their own refit, and that gave Asmar valuable experience in the German-built subs. In June, Asmar finished work on a three-year refit of the SS Simpson, which followed a refit of its twin, the SS Thompson. That project included adding the SUBTICS integrated combat system (used in Chile's two Scorpene-class submarines) and digital displays.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Defense Ministry Gets a New Leader

Andres Allemand has stepped down as Defense Minister, one of two cabinet members leaving their posts to pursue Chile's presidency. The new minister is Rodrigo Hinzpeter, the current Interior Minister. In that capacity, Hinzpeter has been responsible for domestic security, anti-terrorism efforts and other key mandates. That has given him ample experience in border security, student protests and the Mapuche conflict. He's pushed for a new law to control violence at demonstrations. That has made him a top enemy of student and Mapuche protesters. The Ministry of Defense has been largely bypassed in internal security, so Hinzpeter heads for a less-volatile job. Should changes be expected in Chile's defense policies? Not really. Hinzpeter and Allemand served in the same administration, and the new appointment is just a stop-gap measure until a new president comes to power in about a year from now. A lawyer by training, Hinzpeter spent some time working at a New York law firm. Allemand can look back at his tenure in Defense with some significant milestones. He was instrumental in developing a new budget mechanism for the armed forces (one that backs away from using copper revenues) and for a proposal that could increase the military's role in anti-terror, immigration and other internal issues. Peacekeeping and social welfare programs advanced under his leadership.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Air Force Training, Texas Style

Deep in the heart of Texas
A small group of FACH warplanes, pilots and support personnel spent a week training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Three F-16 Block 50 fighter jets flew for exercises with a unit of the Texas Air National Guard. The F-16s flew nonstop from their base in Iquique, refueling in midair with a KC-135 tanker. This is not the first time FACH pilots train with the U.S. Air Force. The two air forces have a long relationship and they share some doctrine and tactics. In fact, Texas-based military personnel visited FACH facilities in June. Mutlinational exercises are valuable because they expose pilots to fresh challenges. It's sort of like scrimmaging with another football team, rather than your own squad. Chile hosts an annual fighter exercise, called Salitre, with several air forces. Crews from Argentina, Brazil, the U.S., France, Uruguay, Canada and Colombia are expected at this year's meet, scheduled for November at the Cerro Moreno air base near Antofagasta.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chile May Join Europe Peacekeeping Missions

Chile is considering adding troops to the European Union's peacekeeping forces. Minister of Defense Andres Allemand and his German counterpart, Christian Schmidt, discussed in Berlin the potential use of Chilean soldiers in multinational operations. Chile would be the first Latin American force to join the EU. Schmidt expressed interest in the experience of Chilean troops, which are serving in the United Nations' Haiti stabilization program. A brigade of about 600 troops has been working in that Caribbean nation for several years. In May, the Chilean Senate authorized to extend the commitment (its largest-ever peacekeeping deployment) for another 12 months. With little threat of war on the horizon, Chile's armed forces have been honing their peacekeeper role. A joint force has been created with Argentina. The acquisition of a multi-role ship last year gave Chile the ability to mobilize an infantry battalion, support vehicles and medical staff over great distances. Its airlift capability is still modest, but the recent acquisition of three KC-135 cargo/tanker planes from U.S. stockpiles gave the military some valuable tonnage. Chile's military these days is equipped pretty much like a NATO member, so integrating its troops with the EU would not be difficult. In another humanitarian effort, Chile has agreed to participate in a regional disaster relief force.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Chile's Floating Hospital

When the Navy acquired an amphibious assault ship last year, it said the vessel would be used for humanitarian as well as military purposes. The Navy is living up to that pledge, deploying the Sargento Aldea on the largest medical relief mission in Chile. More than 75 medical professionals are among a force of 600. An estimated 6,000 people are being treated, which will trim hospital waiting lists in the Aysen region by 30%. Those numbers help illustrate the health crisis in Chile and its shorthanded public hospitals. They also show how the armed forces are much a part of the nation's health care system. The Navy has been a longtime provider of medical care in isolated areas, and the Army's field hospital and medical staff often have been used to help sick civilians, especially the poor. The military has the resources to help out, and such goodwill missions help polish an image of the armed forces that's already fairly positive. The Sargento Aldea has 51 hospital beds, two operating rooms, a dental clinic, an x-ray room and other facilities.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gathering Indicates Chile Has Acquired Advanced Pods

Six air forces that use the RecceLite reconnaissance pod met in Holland recently, and among those in attendance was the Chilean Air Force. The news is fresh evidence that Chile has acquired the pods, which are made by Israel's Rafael Advance Defense Systems. RecceLite provides real-time reconnaissance and data links. The word around aviation circles is that Chile has bought advanced Rafael pods for the FACH's F-16 fleet. Earlier, photographs of Chilean F-16s showed a targeting pod that appeared to be the Litening. The Litening and RecceLite resemble each other, and it's possible FACH is using both types. FACH has never publicly acknowledged having targeting or reconnaissance pods. Because they are not weapons, per se, they are not disclosed in the UN arms exports reports.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Proposed Budget Boosts Police, Border Security

President Sebastian Piñera's 2013 budget seeks 2,000 more police officers and 200 additional investigations officers in hopes of reducing Chile's crime problem. The Carabineros police force today counts with 44,500 men and women, and they are a busy bunch: According to Carabineros' 2011 annual report, more than half a million persons were arrested that year in Chile (population 17 million). The budget also expands forensic capabilities and crime-prevention programs. The budget, which totals more than $60 billion, also devotes funds specifically for Plan Frontera Norte, an effort to control drug trafficking and illegal immigration along the Peru and Bolivia borders. Indeed, the drug trade and related crime is one of Chile's main security problems.The budget has been sent to Congress, which must pass a final bill by the end of November. Update: The budget for the Ministry of Defense will be $2.77 billion in 2013. That represents an increase of 2% over the 2012 outlay.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Is the End Nigh for Chile's Aerospace Company?

The Air Force is considering shutting down its aerospace business, which is heavily in debt and unable to forge international partnerships. FACh commander Gen. Jorge Rojas has ordered a study into shutting down Empresa Nacional de Aeronautica, or Enaer, the online newspaper El Periodista reported. The move came after a planned alliance with EADS/Airbus Military became frustrated in legal entanglements. If Enaer is closed, about 800 workers would be affected, although one-third of them would staff up a new Air Force wing that would take over aviation maintenance duties. No doubt, the demise of Enaer would be a blow to Chile's aerospace aspirations. The company, which is about $60 million in debt today, was responsible for one of Chile's most successful military exports, the Pillan T-35 basic trainer. Its plants have refurbished C-130 Hercules for various air forces. The end of Enaer raises other serious questions. For example, the company was supposed to have a role in the development and construction of Embraer's C-390 transport, as part of Chile's plan to acquire several of the planes. Would Chile be forced out of the program? And how does the failed EADS deal affect the Navy's and Army's own plans for foreign alliances?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bullet Points: Electronics, Aircraft, Special Forces

Rounding up some loose ends on Chile's Army, Navy and Air Force:
  • The Air Force's F-16 Block 50 fighter jets are getting an upgraded electronic warfare suite. The ALQ-211 Advanced Defensive Electronic Warfare System (AIDEWS), from ITT Exelis, is a next-generation integrated radar warning system. It alerts pilots about radar-based threats, namely surface to air and air to air missiles.
  • The Navy is ready to retire its fleet of  Cessna O-2A Skymaster airplanes. A request for proposals for a similar search and rescue aircraft is being put out next year. A piston-engine, long-endurance plane with easy maintenance is being sought. The venerable Skymaster harkens back to the Vietnam War. Chile acquired about 20 of them from U.S. surplus stockpiles in 1997-2000, although about half were used for spares and reserves.
  • The Army's special forces' equipment is looking much like their U.S. counterparts'. The standard assault rifle is the M4 carbine, with an Aimpoint sighting system. The standard sidearm is the Beretta PX4.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Anti-Gay Memo Roils Army

The Army finds itself in a major controversy after a senior officer urged excluding gays and other groups from the service. A memo from the commander of the 1st Army Division in Antofagasta recommended avoiding recruits "who present health, mental, socioeconomic or criminal problems, drug users, homosexuals, conscientious objectors and Johovah's Witnesses." News of the February-dated memo sparked a fury, prompting a swift rebuke from government leaders and an apology from Army chief Gen. Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba. It may sound odd to find Jehovah's Witnesses among the excluded groups, but church doctrine forbids serving in the military. A church spokesman in Chile said it was a good thing the Army took its beliefs into consideration. It's a different story for gays, who are not barred from serving in Chile's military. Defense Minister Andres Allamand condemned the entire memo and ordered Fuente-Alba to ensure that the Army is free of discrimination against all persons. The Ministry said discrimination is not tolerated under the Army's own doctrine nor under Chile's new anti-discrimination law. This is the worst crisis of Fuente-Alba's command, but his job appears to be safe. Some politicians, though, want the 1st Division commander fired. While the Ministry of Defense is sounding magnanimous, there are limits to what it considers discrimination. For example, married persons, parents and members of any political party cannot become noncommissioned officers. Similar rules apply to Chileans wishing to be professional soldiers or enter other areas of the armed forces. Update: A Chilean gay organization revealed an Air Force document that notes similar objections to gays. The document lists certain psychological grounds for exclusion in FACH, namely "Sexual alterations or perversions: homosexuality, lesbianism, voyeurism and exhibitionism." (Scroll to Articulo 101.)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Army's Air Cavalry Ambitions

Chile is planning to create an air cavalry brigade, in what would be a new layer of combat capabilities for the Army as it continues its modernization. The unit would count on 800 to 1,200 elite soldiers mobilized by a fleet of 14 to 30 helicopters, according to the online daily El Periodista. The special forces brigade also would have helicopters for fire support, a possible acquisition that resurfaced at the Fidae air show last March. Eurocopter is seen as the likely supplier of both transport and attack helicopters, El Periodista reports, because Army commander Gen. Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba prefers to have a standardized helicopter force, from a single manufacturer. As such, the Tiger advanced attack helicopter is a likely choice, the report adds. An air cavalry brigade was not in the Army's blueprint that resulted in its armored cavalry overhaul. That, plus a lack of named sources, raises doubts about the veracity of the article. But already, Chile is one of several countries negotiating to acquire second-hand Cougar helicopters from the Netherlands. Chile is interested in eight of the copters, which would double a fleet that today includes eight new Cougars purchased a few years ago. Separately, El Periodista said the Army wants to enhance its fixed-wing capabilities and is seriously considering three to five Spartan C27J twin-engine light transport planes. The Army's transport-plane arm is fairly weak, equipped with a pair of C-235 turboprops (a third was lost in a crash) and several CASA C-212 planes. A narrow geography makes it difficult to supply troops at Chile's northern and southern extremities, which means air transport plays a crucial logistical role. The Air Force also doesn't have much cargo capability for the tonnage necessary to supply several battalions engaged in combat.

Friday, August 24, 2012

EADS-Enaer Partnership Fails Legal Test

An alliance between EADS/Airbus Military and Enaer, the Air Force's aerospace company, has been found to be illegal. Chile's Comptroller General said the proposed partnership violates the laws governing state-owned businesses. Basically, this is how the legal interpretation breaks down: Because of Enaer's obligations under a manufacturing contract with Brazil's Embraer, the Chilean company would have needed to fold all operations except military maintenance into a new company jointly owned with EADS. Chilean law, however, mandates that these operations must always be under direct and sole control of Chile and its armed forces. The framework for the EADS deal, therefore, breaks the law. The decision is a big setback for Enaer, which has been struggling financially and was looking to the EADS alliance as a way to shore up its manufacturing business. The union that represents Enaer workers brought the complaint, fearing that the EADS deal could cost them jobs, even though they were assured of continued employment with the new combined company. Enaer has incurred losses and continues to struggle financially, according to statements published in Chile's Senate website. There's been no public reaction from FACH or the Ministry of Defense.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Chile's Frustrating Battle Against Domestic Terrorism

In the past six years, about 150 terrorist bombs have exploded in Chile. Most have been small devices that caused relatively modest damage. The targets are usually business storefronts, including those of multinational corporations. Police had no arrests and little progress -- until they caught a lucky break last year. A young anarchist targeted a branch of Santander Bank in Santiago, but the bomb blew up on him. He lost one hand, part of another, part of his eyesight and was badly burned. The young bomber got his comeuppance, it seemed. But this month, a court dismissed terrorism charges against him and sentenced him to six years of probation. The light sentence caused a public backlash, as many Chileans saw their best shot at a terror suspect practically evaporate. But the 23-year-old bomber is not out of the woods. Unlike the U.S. legal system, Chile's courts allow the state to appeal a criminal sentence. That's the next step in the largely fruitless battle against the bombers. In June, six defendants accused of planting bombs were acquitted. The judge cited a lack of evidence.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Chile Sets Sights on New UAVs, Ships, Radar

The commander in chief of Chile's Army visited Israel to get a first-hand look at unmanned aerial vehicles as a decision nears on a batch of smaller-scale UAVs. The Skylark 1LE from Elbit Systems has emerged as the favorite, according to One of the advantages of the Skylark is that its optical and tracking systems can be used to target Spike anti-tank missiles, currently the backbone of the Army's anti-armor arsenal. notes, however, that competitors are irked that one of the Army's requirements is that the mini-UAV must be compatible with the Hermes 900 heavy UAV, which Chile has acquired. The Navy is looking to replace a handful of support ships. A pair of 780-ton landing ships are due for replacement, and the Navy-owned Asmar shipyard is expected to be the builder. A new icebreaker is in longer-term plans. No timetable has been given for those projects. For the Air Force, multiple reports say a new TRS Ground Master 400 radar is being delivered next year.  The mobile 3-D radar, made by ThalesRaytheon, can detect aircraft at high and low altitudes and as far out as 470 km (nearly 300 miles).

Saturday, August 4, 2012

FACh Featured in Air Forces Monthly

The September edition of Air Forces Monthly magazine has a special report on Chile's Air Force (Fach). The article notes that negotiations on the purchase of additional Black Hawk helicopters have resumed, while a replacement for the T-36 Toqui jet trainers is planned for 2013. In the early 1980s, FACh ordered 13 CASA C-101BB planes (named T-36 in Chile), followed by two more in 1991, the article says. Except for a single copy, all have been replaced by the new A-29B Super Tucanos. The ground attack version of the C-101 was ordered in 1984, with 23 copies purchased, Air Forces Monthly reported. Along with the sole converted T-36, all were upgraded in the mid-1990s to include heads-up displays, new avionics and the ability to fire Shafrif air-to-air missiles. Among other interesting details, the seven-page report also includes an order-of-battle table of the entire FACh.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Chile's PVP Vehicles Include Weapons Stations

A small number of Panhard PVP light armored vehicles includes the PL80 protected weapon station, which can be equipped with a machine gun or 40mm automatic grenade launcher. Other weapons options are the Nexter Munitions GALIX grenade dischargers and an acoustic device that sends a painful sound blast. Read the entire note about the PVPs, with extensive details, at Defesa Global. In fact, look for more postings from that informative blog on this space.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Some Odds and Ends in Chile's Arsenal

Thanks to a reader who sent data from SIPRI on Chile's defense acquisitions, here's a list of some systems that have been added in recent years but had not been reported in this blog.
  • M-108 VBLC artillery command vehicle. The M-108 flopped as a 105mm self-propelled gun, but the Belgians converted them to mobile command systems. Chile bought 21 of them, which were delivered in 2009.
  • Panhard PVP armored vehicles. These light 4x4 vehicles were delivered in 2010-11 for Marines working with the peacekeeping force in Haiti. Cost for the 15 vehicles was 2 million euros. Only nine have been delivered.
  • M-113A2 in ambulance configuration. Germany sold 24 of these to Chile in 2009.
  • SM-39 Exocet missiles. The Navy bought a dozen of these anti-ship missiles, which are fired from submarines.
  • AIM-7M Sparrow anti-aircraft missiles. Bought 75 from the Dutch as part of the deal for four used frigates. Delivered in 2006-08.
  • Black Shark torpedoes. One of only a few acquisitions made in Italy, 100 of these advanced torpedoes were bought in 2005-10.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

'National Strategy' Sharply Broadens Military's Role

Chile's armed forces appear to take a much larger role in internal security affairs under a strategic framework developed by President Sebastian Piñera's administration. The National Strategy for Security and Defense for the first time specifically puts security problems such as drug trafficking, organized crime and piracy under the broad umbrella of national defense. These unconventional threats have fundamentally changed how Chile views its security needs, the president says. Some exist on an international scale, which is of particular importance to Chile as it positions itself as global trade partner. Some politicians have criticized the plan, saying it expands the military's power into areas that aren't part of its mandate, and the policy could violate the constitution. Since the end of military rule in Chile, the Carabineros and Policia de Investigaciones have been tasked with safeguarding internal security. The National Strategy, which now goes to a legislative review, is characterized as a companion piece to the new military budget law, which is on its way to final approval. Indeed, some military acquisitions such as UAVs and maritime patrol aircraft have been made with an eye toward patrolling border areas and the vast territorial waters. The Navy, of course, has long been responsible for security of the littoral area and the exclusive economic zone.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Army as Physician of Last Resort

With Chile's government struggling with a health crisis, the Army has been sent out to provide emergency medical care to the civilian population. Mobile hospital units are operating at two hospitals in the metropolitan region, providing emergency-room treatment and hospitalization for the most ill patients. It's flu season on Chile, and a nasty virus is going around. It's estimated that cases of respiratory illness are up 70% compared with last year. So, President Sebastian Piñera ordered the Army out of the barracks and into the emergency wards. It's not the first time the Army Modular Campaign Hospital has rendered aid to civilians. In fact, it's been deployed 29 times since 2001, performing hundreds of surgeries. Its long list of missions underscores how the armed forces are an integral part of the social safety net, much like they are also the muscle of Chile's disaster response system. Update: The Army's role as administrator of social programs doesn't stop with health care. The Army also has been put in charge of a homeless shelter at a stadium. This came as a cold wave in Santiago left several homeless people dead.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What Chile's Next Military Budget Might Include

With the reform of the military budget all but a done deal, it's time to do some educated guessing on what programs are in line for the first four-year spending plan. Here are my estimations for major programs in the 2014-2018 timeframe, which would coincide with the next presidential term.
  • Airborne early warning. The sole Condor AEW plane is aged and FACH is looking at a turboprop-type platform. This is the type of weapon that can be used for anti-drug operations and has a high likelihood of being approved in time for the retirement of the Condor, perhaps in 2015.
  • Advanced jet trainer. The FACH T-36 Halcon planes are quite outdated. A plane with capabilities beyond the Pillan basic trainer and the Super Tucano is needed to fill a training gap.
  • Transport helicopters. The Army is trying to replace its old Puma helicopters with Cougar or Super Puma 'copters. This acquisition may happen before the next budget is drawn up, and perhaps as early as this year.
  • Attack helicopters. The Army has considered the Boeing AH-6 and similar light helicopters to replace about 15 MD-530 helicopter used in the scout role.
  • Submarines. The two Type 209 subs will need to be replaced in about 5-8 years. A new contract or even a request for bids may not happen in the 2014-2018 budget, but certainly in the next one.
  • Offshore patrol vessel. A slam dunk for the Navy, which has long planned to have at least four OPVs built domestically and is already at work on the third.
  • Air defense system: The Norwegian NASAMS and Avenger systems have already been selected. It's unclear if contracts will be signed before the next budget.
  • Wheeled armored vehicles. The Navy needs to equip its amphibious assault ship with 30-40 APCs. Stryker and LAV 8x8 vehicles have been rumored to be choices. This is another program that may be funded during the current presidential administration.
  • Tactical transport planes. Two or three C-130 Hercules remain in service and they are reaching the end of their useful life. Chile is one of the partners in Embraer's C-390 project and it is expected to purchase five of the planes.
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles. FACH has already purchased three Hermes 900 UAVs and reports have said the Navy and Army could follow with purchases of their own.This is another system whose civilian applications make it more likely to be funded. Also expect tactical-level UAVs to be acquired.
  • Maritime patrol aircraft. The Navy's P-3 Orion fleet needs extensive repairs, and a decision has been made to replace them with C-295 Persuaders. The Navy already has acquired three Persuaders and is expected to exercise an option for five more.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Slog to Rid Chile of Minefields

One by one, Chile is finding and removing thousands of landmines dating back to the standoffs with its neighbors in the 1970s. But less than one-third of all mines are gone. More than 180,000 antipersonnel and antitank mines were planted in various border areas. So far, some 50,000 have been removed, leaving years of work still ahead. Chile's government this month took an unusual step, hiring a relief organization, Norwegian People's Aid, to cleanse an area that straddles the Peru-Chile border. This is the first mine-clearing job in the country for People's Aid, which has been involved in Chile since 1985. The new program arose after storms caused dozens of mines to wash onto beaches and roads. Also, a Peruvian taxicab drove through a marked minefield, killing the driver, in May. Chilean Army and Navy engineer units have been clearing mines since 2002, as part of Chile's obligations under the Treaty of Ottawa. Some Chileans don't mind the minefields at all, believing they deter drug trafficking and illegal immigration. To their disappointment, the mine-clearing job may be slow but the government is committed to finishing it. From a military standpoint, the minefields no longer have much use because they've been identified and marked. But in the 1970s, the mines helped Chile narrow a big gap with Peru's potent military.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Submarine Back in Service After Delayed Refit

One of the Navy's Type 209 submarines returned to duty for the first time since it went into refit in 2009. The work was delayed about one year, after the February 2010 tsunami ravaged the Simpson while it was in a repair dock. Some of its pieces, such as the plotting table (which had been taken to a separate area), have never been found. The refit included new command and control and combat systems. Much of the new electronics suite was provided by Desarrollos de Automatizacion, a Chile-based company that makes military software and components. The upgrades will keep the 27-year-old sub operating for "several more years," a naval officer said. Look for the Simpson and its sister ship, the Thompson, to be in line for replacement in the first 12-year strategic acquisition plan the government puts forward. (More on that in later post.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Defense Budget Overhaul Clears Legislative Hurdle

The most sweeping revision of Chile's military budget passed unanimously in the lower chamber of congress Wednesday, June 13, clearing an important milestone. The proposal now moves to the Senate. For decades, 10% of export sales by the state-owned copper company, Codelco, have been earmarked for military acquisitions. The new law eliminates that lucrative mechanism, replacing it with a budget process similar to what other government agencies use. That is, lawmakers will get final say (really, a say for the first time) on the defense budget and there will be much greater transparency in acquisitions. The "copper law" yielded upwards of $1 billion a year for Chile's military, and no doubt the new financing system will reduce those sums. Yet, the revision establishes an annual spending floor of 70% of the average sum the copper law provided from 2001 through 2010. That works out to roughly $600 million. In general terms, the new mechanism sets up a broad strategic budget drawn up every 12 years, and more specific outlays approved every four years. A Strategic Contingency Fund will be set up to finance a potential conflict, or to take advantage of a noteworthy bargain in the international arms market. It will be initially funded with the copper law surplus, which is believed to be a few billion dollars.

Monday, June 4, 2012

EADS Partnering with Chile's ENAER

EADS will form a partnership with Enaer, the aviation services and manufacturing company operated by Chile's Air Force. The two firms will form a new company that will manufacture aircraft components and provide maintenance services. The deal increases EADS' footprint in Chile, where the European consortium has had success selling military planes (C-212, C-235, C-295), helicopters (Super Puma and similar models) and a satellite. Enaer's current activities will be folded into the new company, which will provide Enaer with fresh investments and a larger workload. But Enaer employees are not happy with the news. They fear hundreds of workers will be laid off. Enaer has had its ups and downs. It has a steady business servicing Air Force planes and some civilian jets, while boasting Chile's most successful military export: the T-35 Pillan basic trainer. But there have been times when business was light and the company was posting losses. In 2009, management laid off 200 workers.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Turkish Military Industry Makes Inroads in Chile

The defense leaderships of Chile and Turkey have signed a cooperation agreement that could bring new business for defense contractors of both nations. Already, military officials have made a flurry of visits, including a Turkish delegation that toured Famae and Asmar facilities. The head of Chile's Navy, Adm. Juan Gonzales Fuentealba, visited the Anadolu Shipyard, where he reportedly expressed keen interest in the company's landing ships. Chile's ambassador to Turkey, Jorge Arancibia, who happens to be a former commander of the Navy, joined in the visit. Chile and Turkey have in common some key weapons systems, including F-16 fighter jets (some Chilean pilots trained in Turkey, in fact), Leopard 1 tanks and Type 209 submarines.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Army Factory Rolls Out Support Vehicles

Famae, the Army-owned munitions company, has developed a couple of logistical support vehicles. Although you won't find them on Famae's website, videos on YouTube show a bridge layer that uses a Leopard 1 chassis, and an M-548 munitions carrier that has been modified to carry fuel and serve as a mobile gas station. Famae is primarily a manufacturer of munitions, anything from 9mm rounds to 155mm artillery shells, and small arms such as assault rifles and submachineguns. Every once in a while, the company tries its hand at bigger projects. In the 1980s, it built some Piranha armored vehicles under license from Mowag.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Navy Gets Some Badly Needed Helicopters

Chile's Navy recently took delivery of two Eurocopter Super Puma helicopters that were bought used from a private company. The AS332L Super Pumas are equipped for transport, patrol and search & rescue missions. With room for more than a dozen troops, they are large enough to carry a squad for interdiction operations. Up to now, the Navy had only one other similar Cougar helicopter capable of such a passenger load; its Dauphin light helicopters are exclusively for patrol and SAR. Chile's Navy has been a longtime operator of the Super Puma/Cougar helicopter family. It acquired seven in 1990: six for anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare and one for transport. Two of the weaponized helicopters have been lost to accidents, leaving just four still in service plus the three now operating as as transports. The Navy's Proyecto Ícaro envisioned the acquisition of five transport helicopters, but funding for the full program never materialized. With the arrival of a new multi-role ship, interest has increased to add ship-borne helicopters, and the head of the Navy's aviation arm, Rear Adm. Alberto Undurraga, told that hopes are to secure funding for the three remaining aircraft in the "medium term."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Submarine, Patrol Boat to be Built

A steel company in Chile is planning to build a submarine, which would be the first such project in Chile. The Crocodile Class 250 sub will be used for research and rescues, and would not have military capabilities. Still, Chilean officials laud the effort, even though the Navy has not agreed to acquire the sub. The Crocodile -- being built by a company named Vapor Industrial -- can operated at a depth of 300 meters with a maximum endurance underwater of three hours. Meanwhile, the Navy-owned Asmar shipyard is building a third offshore patrol vessel for the Armada. The new ship will vary slightly from two sister ships already delivered: It will have a hardened hull to operate in Artic waters and better weaponry. The vessels are based on the German Fassmer OPV 80 design. The 1,900-ton ships have a maximum speed of 20 knots, maximum endurance of 30 days and a crew of up to 60. The main armament is a 40 mm gun, plus several .50-caliber machine guns. The first two were delivered in 2008-09. UPDATE: A 76mm gun, reinforced hull and navigation system will increase the cost of the new offshore patrol vessel by 43% over earlier boats. The total cost was not given.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

U.S. Troops to Train at Chilean Base

The U.S. and Chile have built a training center for peacekeeping mission at a military base in central Chile. The $460,000 installation consists of an urban setting and was specifically built for "blue helmet" operations under the command of the United Nations. Besides U.S. and Chilean troops, soldiers from Brazil, Argentina and other UN member countries will train in Concon, where Chile's marines have one of their four bases. The presence of U.S. troops rattled left-wing politicians, who characterized the project as a U.S. intrusion for belligerent purposes. Thar forced Defense Minister Andres Allamand to try to soothe critics' nerves. Chile's most significant role in UN peacekeeping missions is in Haiti, where it has stationed about 600 troops with support vehicles and helicopters.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Questions Grow in Probe of Air Tragedy

An Air Force plane that crashed, killing all 21 persons on board, had just left a maintenance facility without some scheduled repairs and little more than a paint job. The C-212 spent five months at an Enaer facility and underwent a major check back at its base. Yet the plane never got a bolt replacement the manufacturer recommended, and a crack in the wing and a faulty emergency beacon were never fixed, according to La Tercera. These details emerged after the Air Force released the maintenance records for the C-212, which crashed Sept. 2 as it tried to land on an island with a team of earthquake reconstruction volunteers. A popular TV personality also died in the crash, further heightening public interest in the tragedy. The plane's mechanical problems don't necessarily explain why the C-212 crashed on approach, although the bad beacon might explain why it took so long to find the wreckage. The plane also was overloaded on its final flight, although it's unclear if that could have been a factor in the failed landing, when much of the fuel already had been spent. But the combination of celebrity and the Air Force's waffling in the investigation has the service in a crisis. Already, one general has resigned. The mess also is undermining the Air Force's image as an elite, cutting-edge institution.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Draft Avoided as 12,000 Volunteers Join Armed Forces

Chile's armed forces were unsure they'd get enough volunteers this year after a protracted student protest frustrated the military's recruitment efforts. But in the end, more than 21,000 applied for military service -- 53.5% more than the required number. In the Army, 11,040 were accepted, including 842 women. Indeed, the interest among women to serve continues strong. More than 4,000 applied for the 842 slots available to them in the Army, meaning that just one in five was accepted. The Navy enlisted 620 men, the Air Force 460. This marked the sixth consecutive year that the three branches have filled their conscription rolls without having to call up anybody. There's a sense of patriotism for those who volunteer, but they also enjoy free training in technical and vocational fields. There's the morale aspect, too: Ask any commander, and they'll tell you they rather have a force of volunteer soldiers than anyone who's under compulsion to serve.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

How Chile Helped Britain Win the Falklands War

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, and Chile's role in the war also is being remembered. Kept secret for decades, Chile's assistance to Britain has come to light over the years, and it was extensive. The head of Chile's Air Force at the time, Gen. Fernando Matthei, was the principal figure. Mindful of Argentina's attempt to take three Chilean islands by force in 1978, Matthei was eager to help the British, and the Brits sought him out. Matthei, who had served as military attache in London, authorized a range of intelligence assistance. Radar tracking, electronic eavesdropping and other surveillance Chile conducted during the war gave Britain the eyes and ears it lacked otherwise. It was all monitored in an underground war room in the Punta Arenas area. All of this, of course, was done in utmost secrecy. Gen. Augusto Pinochet ordered Matthei to deal directly with the British officer in Chile, Wing Commander Sidney Edwards. That gave Pinochet and Chile's government some cover in case word leaked out. The Royal Air Force surreptitiously delivered a radar and other surveillance equipment to the south of Chile using RAF Hercules C-130 transport planes that were disguised with Chilean markings. Alas, the cover didn't work perfectly because the Spanish for "air force" was misspelled. When a radar had to be shut down for maintenance, the consequences were tragic: Argentine fighter-bombers were undetected as they attacked two British transports, destroying both. Eventually, the English rewarded Chile for its support, sending a batch of Hawker Hunter fighter planes, Canberra bombers, anti-aircraft missiles and radars.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fidae Air Show Brings New Material, Talk of Deals

The biannual Fidae air show is in full swing this weekend, with nearly 500 exhibitors and 75 aircraft on display. Here's a roundup of developments in this year's show.

Friday, March 30, 2012

F-16 Suffers Landing Gear Collapse

An F-16 fighter from the 5th Air Brigade at the Cerro Moreno Air Base near Antofagasta made an emergency landing after part of its landing gear failed. The jet landed with two its three wheels, sustaining some damage. The plane was in a training mission when the accident occurred around 1 pm on Friday, March 30. The two pilots were unhurt. Judging from the plane's markings and its home base, it was a F-16B MLU. The plane was part of a batch acquired second hand from the Netherlands in 2005.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Puma Helicopters Fixed Up, Go on Sale

Three Puma SA-330L helicopters just back from a major refurbishment are being put up for sale. The Army has had a change of heart and instead of using the helicopters now wants to standardize its transport copter fleet with AS-532 Cougar helicopters, according to El Mostrador. The Army already has purchased eight Cougars. The $20 million upgrade included new digital communications and control systems, GPS navigation, LCD cockpit displays, night vision gear and defensive countermeasures. El Mostrador blames intermediaries for Eurocopter for a program that ultimately served no purpose and diverted funds from other Army programs. Still, funds fromthe sale of the helicopters could be used on new material, possibly a Super Puma helicopter.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fighter Jet Pictures Show Targeting Pod

F-16 MLU. Notice pod on starboard side of jet intake.
Some stunning pictures of Chile's jet fighters and other aircraft are illustrated in the website of aviation photographer C.J. Vanderende. The images are good enough for any military or aviation enthusiast to appreciate. But a couple of shots are particularly interesting because they seem to confirm the existence of the Litening targeting pod in Chile's arsenal. Chile's Air Force is guarded about details of the electronics on its warplanes, but some unofficial sources had mentioned FACH's acquisition of the Litening, The Litening has sophisticated vision gear, including an infrared camera, and a laser designator that works as a targeting pointer. Its technology enables the use of precision munitions and makes night operations much easier. The Litening pod was developed by Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Northrop Grumman has joined in the project.