Saturday, April 26, 2014

Army, Marines Upgrade their Standard Rifles

Ironically, one of the last steps in Chile's long military modernization involves the most basic weapon: the standard infantry rifle. The Army and Marines are replacing their assault rifles with new models from Belgium and Israel. The Marines decided on the SCAR family, specifically the SCAR-L 5.56 mm assault rifle, SCAR-H 7.62 mm scout rifle and 7.62 mm version of the MINIMI machine gun. The SCAR-L, made by FN Herstal of Belgium, was designed for U.S. SOCOM as a versatile weapon that comes with a standard 14.5-inch barrel but can be switched to a 10-inch barrel in five minutes. The SCARs, which replace the Hecker & Koch HK33SG1 rifles, won out over the Colt M-4 carbine for an order of up to 3,500 guns. The Marines are already using their new SCAR rifles, as images from their deployments in April's two disaster zones have shown. The Army, reports say, has chosen the Galil ACE from Israel Weapon Industries. The 5.56 mm rifle is known for being a reliable weapon that's easy to maintain and operate. The ACE beat out the SIG Sauer 556 carbine, which reportedly did not perform well in Chile's desert. The Swiss arms maker has long relationship with Chile: The Army's Famae armaments company has been making the SIG 510 and 540 models for decades and it is the current standard Army rifle. The HK33 and the SIG 510/540 are fine weapons, but they are old designs that lack some modern features such as adjustable buttstocks. At last month's FIDAE air show, Famae introduced its own design of an assault rifle with Picatinny rails and other improvements. The SCAR and ACE make Chile's infantry better integrated with U.S. and western forces, a strategy Chile has followed in most of its upgrade programs. The acquisitions come far into Chile's military modernization, but rifle technology hasn't changed that much, which could explain why armor, UAVs and other systems had priority.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Military's Medical Corps, Troops Responding to Disasters

The multi-role ship Sargento Aldea is docked in Iquique, conducting dozens of operations and other medical treatments. The city's main hospital was damaged in the April 1 earthquake, and the ship's medical facilities are picking up the slack. Civilian and Navy doctors have performed 27 surgeries on the ship, of both earthquake victims and patients who were forced off the hospital. This is the first time the Sargento Aldea is used as a floating hospital to handle a natural disaster, and it's precisely how Chile envisioned using it when it acquired the vessel from France in 2011. The Army has deployed a field hospital, which has treated more than 300 victims, delivered 45 newborns and operated on 22 patients. The armed forces continue to patrol the region and the port city of Valparaiso, where a wildfire burned hundreds of homes. FACh, for example, took its anti-aircraft and special forces troops to handle security, medical and emergency-shelter operations. Troops are patrolling the fire and earthquake zones under a special constitutional provision that lets the president send out the military to the streets during natural disasters. In the first several weeks of her new term, President Michelle Bachelet has invoked the so-called State of Constitutional Exception for Catastrophes twice already. The special rule also lets the president appoint military commanders to take control of stricken communities.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

After Long Delay, New Off-Shore Patrol Vessel is Launched

OPV Marinero Fuentealba
The Asmar shipyard has launched the Navy's newest off-shore patrol vessel. OPV 83 Marinero Fuentealba is scheduled for delivery by the end of the year. The ship, based on the German Fassmer OPV 80 design, displaces 1,771 tons and can sail for up to 30 days, with a range of 8,000 nautical miles. Its maximum speed is 20 knots. A hangar and landing pad can accommodate a light helicopter. The Fuentealba is the third of five off-shore patrol vessels Chile is building. The first two were delivered in 2007 and 2009, but the third ship was delayed as Asmar rebuilt its shipyard after the February 2010 earthquake and tsunami. In fact, this is Asmar's first new construction since that devastating disaster. The Fuentealba has a larger 76mm Oto Melara gun than its sister ships (which have 40 mm guns), and a reinforced hull for operations in the cold waters around its future base in Punta Arenas. The OPVs are used to guard territorial waters, provide assistance, protect the marine environment and conduct search and rescue missions.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Military Deployment for Earthquake Far Quicker Than in 2010

 Earthquake patrol duty, once more
The armed forces have fanned out across the north of Chile to help maintain security and provide assistance after the April 1 earthquake. Army, Air Force and Marine patrols have been stationed in supermarkets, gasoline stations and neighborhoods. The Air Force (FACh) flew more than 35 tons of relief equipment, using a pair of C-130 Hercules and two KC-135 transport planes. The military's quick deployment was a far cry from the February 2010 earthquake, when President Michelle Bachelet took two days to send out the troops, and only after looting had become widespread. This time, she had soldiers out in a matter of hours, and military commanders were given authority over the three regions most affected by the quake. Coordination among the armed forces, police and the national emergency service seems to have gone smoothly. Most Chilean communities absorbed the 8.2-magnitude quake well enough, so there was no opportunity for the armed forces to use their field hospitals. The Army's 2nd Armored Brigade in Iquique did set up a medical treatment center. The Navy had enough time to move all its ships out of port before the tsunami struck, although the waves turned out to be moderate. The multirole ship Aldea had to be hustled out of a repair yard but still made it out to sea. In the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, the naval base and shipyard in Talcahuano suffered extensive damage.