Sunday, December 31, 2017

Terror Prosecutors Win Partial Victories in Court

Chilean prosecutors have obtained mixed results in key cases of domestic terrorism, but even partial success is progress in a battle that has left few suspects in jail. In one case, a court convicted a man of terrorism in the 2014 bombing at a subway station. Two other defendants were acquitted, but getting at least one conviction was a positive step. Prosecutors called the verdict "historic." Meanwhile, prosecutors were dealt a serious setback when 11 people were acquitted in the deaths of an elderly couple who died in the fire bombing of their rural home nearly five years ago. However, an appeals court overturned the verdict, which means there will be a new trial. The violence by radical Mapuches may be spreading to Argentina. Investigators in that country are looking into links between the Mapuche communities in both nations after a series of attacks in Argentina.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

How Chile Is Aiding the Search for the Missing Argentine Submarine

Chile is providing some of the most sophisticated sensors in the search for an Argentine submarine that has been missing since Nov. 15. Chile's Navy sent one of its C-295 Persuader submarine hunters to the South Atlantic, where the U.S. Navy, Royal Navy, Brazil's navy and other nations have joined the search for ARA San Juan and its 44 crew members. A Chilean P-3 Orion sub hunter has been added to the search mission, Noticias FFAA Chile reported. Chile also has rushed the scientific research vessel Cabo de Hornos, which is equipped with ocean-floor scanners. The Navy offered the Type 23 frigate Lynch, which has the most advanced sonar in Latin America (the Thales S2087 active/passive sonar) and can carry a Cougar anti-sub helicopter, InfoDefensa reported. On its Twitter account, Chile's Air Force announced it is sending sonobuoys to drop in the search area. There are indications that an explosion occurred in the submarine, and the crew reported a problem with the batteries. If that's the case and the sub is destroyed, sonar is unlikely to pick up any trace of the San Juan. Submarines provide excellent stealth, which makes a rescue mission all the more difficult. The San Juan is one of three subs in Argentina's navy. The TR 1700-class boat was built in Germany and began operations in 1985.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Defense, Police Budgets to Increase 3% in 2018

Chile's defense budget is getting a 3% increase for 2018, to roughly $2.9 billion under currency exchange rates. That sum covers operational costs, payroll, vehicles, equipment, funds for military-owned companies and other expenses, but it excludes main weapons systems. Those are financed from a 10% tax on sales by the state-owned copper mining giant Codelco, which can greatly increase the military's purchasing power. Several billion dollars are believed to be socked away in that fund. But for the Army, Navy and Air Force, a total of $1.94 billion is budgeted, which is a drop of 0.5% from this year's outlays. Chile's police force is budgeted for a 2.7% increase for 2018, to about $1.8 billion in U.S. currency. The budget includes funds for 1,500 additional carabineros, replacement of 250 patrol vehicles and infrastructural improvements. The investigative arm (Policia de Investigaciones) is getting a 1.6% hike in expenditures to $507 million. That includes money for 1,200 more investigators. Chile's most serious security problems are internal, and it's the police agencies that are shouldering the burden of combating those. Police are battling a violent indigenous movement in the south, drug and auto crime along the Bolivian border, and sporadic attacks by anarchists and other extremists. The budget has been introduced in the legislature, which must pass it into law. But while the outgoing administration of President Michelle Bachelet crafted the spending plan, a new administration is taking office in March and will inherit the new budget. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Was Chile Sending a Message in Armed Forces Parade?

In a rare break from tradition, the Sept. 19 Armed Forces Day parade saw the Army put some of is heavy armor on display. Armored units usually don't participate in the annual parade, which is mainly a showcase for the military academies and for patriotic celebrations. But this year, elements of the Third Armored Brigade based in Antofagasta took part, the first time since the bicentennial parade in 2010 that tanks roll in front of the military brass and the president. It was a modest assembly of just a few Leopard 2A4 tanks, Marder infantry fighting vehicles, M-109A5 self-propelled howitzers and engineering vehicles. But with Bolivia's leaders unrelenting in their anti-Chile rhetoric, perhaps Chile wanted to remind its neighbor of the potent enemy it would face if the two countries ever came to blows. The Third Armored Brigade, in fact, would be one of the first to face Bolivian troops. Still, the possibility of armed conflict remains remote, largely because Bolivia's military is so inferior and Chile would mobilize its Army only if it saw a real threat. A bigger problem with Bolivia is the smuggling, car theft and drug traffic along the border.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Chile Resorts to Anti-Terrorism Law in Mapuche Attacks

The radical indigenous movement operating in the south of Chile has stepped up its attacks, burning 29 trucks in a single assault and launching other attacks that have left dozens of trucks and logging machinery destroyed. Mapuche activists have long been targeting logging companies in a violent campaign to win back ancestral lands, a conflict that's only growing worse. Since 2010, more than 250 trucks have been burned, but the toll has risen sharply since last year. Some churches and government equipment have been targeted, too. Chile's government says it will combat the violence with its counter-terrorism laws, which limit certain civil rights. The attacks certainly aren't of the severity of global terror organizations such as ISIS. In another context, these would be just criminal acts, but the political overtones make them fall under the umbrella of organized terror. Years of conflict, ineffective policing and little progress on the central issue of land holdings have combined to create one of Chile's biggest security problems, and one with no quick solution. The latest wave of attacks comes amid the trial of 11 Mapuches accused in the killing of an elderly couple whose home was set ablaze in 2013. Truckers, meanwhile, have threatened to strike unless the government can provide better protection.UPDATE: Police arrested eight people in connection with the fires, including the spokesman of the Mapuche uprising. His home and others were raided in what police called a six-month investigation.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Chile Studies LORA Long-Range Missile

Chile is evaluating the Israeli Aerospace Industries Long Range Attack system, a weapon with a range of 400 km — far more than any artillery system currently in the country's arsenal and anywhere in Latin America. LORA is being considered for deployment in the next decade and would be based on a ship platform, according to a report in Jane's 360. This may end up like so many rumored acquisitions that never materialize. But if LORA does come to Chile, it would mark a shift in military strategy, and not just because of the extreme range. Installed on a warship or even a commercial vessel, LORA could be moved around the expanse of the southern Pacific, providing more mobility than if the system were based on land. LORA also has the potential to change Chile's deep-strike strategy. A missile with 400 km of range and GPS guidance would lessen the need for F-16 fighter jets and the risks that come with an attack into enemy territory. Looking further into the future, any fourth- or fifth-generation fighter to replace the current fleet of F-16s would be costly, and a surface-launched missile would offer another attack option. LORA could take the deep-strike role from FACh, at least in part. LORA is a 5-meter long missile launched from sealed canisters. It uses GPS guidance to reach its target and is accurate to within a 10-meter radius, packing a warhead capable of penetrating reinforced structures.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Navy Adds Fourth Off-Shore Patrol Vessel

The Asmar shipyard delivered a new off-shore patrol vessel to Chile's Navy, the fourth in the series. OPV 84 Cabo Odger displaces 1,728 tons and measures 265 feet in length, with capabilities to stay on the ocean up to 30 days and travel a maximum of 8,000 nautical miles. The ship is armed with a 76 mm cannon and .50-caliber machine guns. OPV 84 will be based in Iquique, where the Navy faces a swarm of illegal fishing activity. Like others in the Fassmer-class OPVs, Cabo Odger has capabilities for search and rescue, environmental protection and a number of auxiliary roles. Each also has a hangar and deck for a helicopter. The Navy plans to build six of the vessels. The program started with the 2007 launch of the first ship, OPV 81, in what originally was going to be a fleet of four boats. Construction of the next two OPVs has not been announced.

Monday, July 31, 2017

How to Defend Chile at Sea

C-295 Persuader
Chile has a long western flank, made up entirely of the Pacific Ocean. With every major city, major highway and industrial center within a few hours' drive from the beach, protecting that flank is one of Chile's most vital strategic goals. The Navy defends Chilean territorial waters through four naval districts. The main naval bases are in two ports: Talcahuano and Valparaiso. Most warships and the most valuable support vessels are stationed in those two bases, making tthose bases critical assets to protect. The backbone of the Navy is its eight frigates: four acquired second-hand from Britain and four others purchased from the Netherlands. Six are equipped for anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare, while two others (the ex-Dutch L class) are primarily air-defense ships equipped with SM-1 and Seasparrow anti-aircraft missiles. The most modern ships are three Type 23 vessels, and those are being upgraded with improved electronics and Sea Ceptor air-defense missiles. The Navy's submarine force consists of two Scorpene boats and two Type 209 subs, the latter of which are nearing the end of their service life. The subs provide Chile with a stealthy weapon, and the Pacific Ocean in that part of the world provides currents and other conditions that enhance the effectiveness of submarine warfare. Thus, the four subs are just as important as the frigates. In the air, Chile has never had much more than just an adequate force. It has several SH-32 Cougar helicopters with sub-detecting electronics and capabilities to launch Exocet anti-ship missiles. The fixed-wing force counts on three operational Orion P-3 planes, plus three C-295 Persuaders. These aircraft help Chile cover sizable gaps that the surface forces alone cannot cover. Some P-111 are still in use, but are mainly for search and rescue and reconnaissance missions. The bulk of naval aviation is stationed near Valparaiso, with airfields also in Punta Arenas, Iquique and Talcahuano. The Navy has considered drones to help patrol the ocean, but there's been no acquisition other than the Navy's own development of a UAV system.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How to Defend Chile in the Air

For the same reason that naval power is important to Chile -- i.e., the country's narrow geography doesn't allow for much flexibility in land mobility -- air power is just as valuable. The Air Force, or FACh, has the mission of maintaining air superiority so that land and naval forces can maneuver effectively. That role falls on the 10 F-16 Block 50 and 36 F-16 MLU fighter planes that provide Chile with the backbone of its air force. Compared with neighboring countries, the F-16 squadrons form a capable if not formidable weapon, especially when targeting pods, beyond-visual-range missiles and radar systems are factored into the equation. In a conflict, the F-16 fleet would provide adequate cover to operate air combat patrols wherever Chile conducts military operations. Pilot training is thought to be at least on par if not superior to Peruvian and Argentine pilots. (Bolivia has no credible air force.) Air bases could be vulnerable to enemy strike, especially if the Andes mountains obscure radar coverage. To protect its bases, FACh counts on the NASAMS medium-range air defense missile system. It also uses truck-mounted Mistral missiles, some 40mm anti-aircraft guns and Vulcan anti-air cannon for a layer of shorter-range air defense. The F-16s also would be tasked with ground attack missions, and for that role Chile also could count on A-29 Super Tucano, F-5 Tiger III and even the antiquated A-36 Halcon jets. The F-16s, though, have the better targeting systems and JDAM bombs. Transportation is a third leg of FACh's mission, and that's an area in which it has added some assets the past few years. It acquired at least two C-130 Hercules planes and three KC-135 tanker-transport planes from U.S. stockpiles. It also has a few converted Boeing jets and light Twin Otter planes. Those aircraft, however, would be stretched thin if Chile has to supply forces at either end of its long geography, and it would also have to hope that most runways stay operational.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Navy Starts Shopping For New Subs; Deal Could Be Largest Ever

The Navy took the first steps to acquire two submarines to replace its Type 209 subs, which are nearing the end of their service life. Plans are to select a winning bid by 2020 and have the new subs operational in 2025, Jane's reports. By then, the older of the two Type 209s in Chile's Navy will be retired. Both Type 209s are already more than 30 years old. The SS Thomson was launched in 1984 and the SS Simpson in 1982. A new electric-diesel submarine typically runs about $500 million, which means the contract for two new subs could top $1 billion. It would easily be the most expensive military acquisition in Chile's history. Submarines, though, are valuable naval assets because of their stealth. Chile's two other submarines, a pair of Scorpene boats, were acquired for less than $500 million, a bargain that Chile obtained because it was the launch customer for the Scorpene. There won't be such luck with the next pair of submarines, and a future president will be faced with Chile's first billion-dollar military decision. Also by 2025, the two L-class air defense frigates will be nearly 40 years old and due for replacement. Those won't be cheap, either.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Navy to Spend $200 Million on New Icebreaker

The Navy is building an icebreaker at its own shipyard, a project that bolsters Chile's footprint in the Antartic region. The $200 million vessel won't have any weapons but an array of sensors for scientific research, such as an ocean-floor scanner, acoustic equipment and on-board laboratories. It will also have rescue capabilities, a helipad and a surgical room. The icebreaker, set to begin operations in 2022, will be able to carry up to 30 scientists and a total crew of 120. Of course, it will be able to navigate in ice up to a meter in thickness. Asmar, the shipyard operated by the Navy, is building the icebreaker. The ship will replace the aged Almirante Viel, an icebreaker launched in 1969 that was acquired from Canada in 1994. Although it's primarily a scientific vessel, the new icebreaker has strategic significance as well. The Antartic region has valuable resources, and nations with territorial claims are making sure they don't go unnoticed. Chile has a few bases in Antartica for scientific work, but also to enforce its sovereignty.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Adios, Haiti

The last of the Chilean troops serving with the United Nations left Haiti last week, ending Chile's longest and largest peacekeeping mission. The exit became official April 19, 13 years after Chile first took part in the multinational force that helped stabilize Haiti after the political upheaval of 2004. More than 12,000 Chilean troops and police served over the 13-year period. Detachments from Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico worked with the Chilean battalion starting in 2013. Chile was one of the last countries to leave Haiti, and the UN itself has decided to withdraw most troops: It will end its mission this October and leave a small contingent. The Caribbean nation, the UN says, is stable enough to function on its own. Chilean casualties were minimal during the deployment, which cost Santiago's treasury a total of $177 million. What did Chile gain from its deployment? It obtained expertise in pacification of civilian areas and training in conditions that could not be replicated in Chile. Rescue, relief, medical and other types of missions gave soldiers, marines and pilots valuable experience. The initial deployment marked the first time a light infantry battalion had been airlifted in 72 hours. It also helped integrate Chile's military with friendly nations, and gave the country a better standing on the world scene as an agent of peace. In a way, it was another step the armed forces have stepped away from the legacy of the 1973-1990 military government.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How to Defend Chile on the Ground

Most of Chile's mechanized units are equipped with Leopard I, Leopard II, M-113, Marder, YPR-765 and various support vehicles that are tracked. With only about 150 wheeled armored vehicles, this is an army that intends to fight in the open fields, where tracked vehicles can move better over cross country terrain. Most Chilean training exercises are conducted in the desert and mountains. All this suggests Chile's Army plans to confront any attacking force before it reaches major population centers. To be sure, the armored cavalry and mechanized infantry units would be quite capable of fighting in the cities if they needed to, especially on home soil. Keep in mind, the most likely area to ever see combat is the north of Chile, and with few highways in the region, land forces must be able to move on dirt rather than asphalt. The Army has modernized itself to the point where it now has a few armored brigades, each self-contained with its own engineer, logistic, communications and other support units. Those form the backbone of the ground defense, and they are strategically located in  Arica, Antofagasta and Iquique and Punta Arenas in the south. Chile's long coastline makes it inviting to amphibious attack, something that Chilean Marines are tasked with defending. With only a few detachments along the country, there aren't enough Marine units and their artillery to cover much of the coast. But reconnaissance aircraft should be able to spot an invading force in the Pacific in plenty of time to marshal defenses. A small commando unit, however, would be much harder to spot on a secluded beach. The armored brigades don't have much by way of air defense. Stinger missiles (for the Avenger system) and shoulder-fired Mistral missiles give the Army a defense against aircraft up to 6 or 8 km. Beyond that, ground forces have to rely on the Air Force to provide coverage, which will be covered in the next part of this series.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Chile's Virtual War with Bolivia

The frosty relations between Chile and Bolivia reached a new low after an incident near the border. Nine Bolivian soldiers and customs officers were arrested and accused of robbing a trucker on Chilean soil. Chile's authorities are holding the Bolivians without bail, sparking a diplomatic row. Bolivia says their men were inside Bolivian territory, and Chile's police went across the border in what it calls a kidnapping. It's certainly not the first time that Bolivian forces have been taken prisoner, and the new incident is merely a reminder of how testy the two nations have turned toward each other since Evo Morales became president. In a largely fruitless (and likely futile) mission, Morales is demanding that Chile give Bolivia access back to the Pacific Ocean, essentially reversing some of the losses Bolivia suffered in the 19th Century War of the Pacific. Just as Bolivia is greatly impoverished compared with Chile, its military forces are no match for Chile's modernized armed forces. That imbalance is keeping a military confrontation from breaking out. But war can be fought on different realms, and this is one is being waged on legal, economic and other fronts. Bolivia sued Chile in the International Court of Justice to win back it access to the sea, arguing that Chile has violated the terms of a treaty. A decision is pending. Chile says it's honored its obligations but it controls the ports that Bolivia needs to access — a powerful economic weapon. Much of the water for the arid Chilean desert flows from Bolivia. Most of all, the leaders of both nations keep blasting each other via Twitter and public declarations. The two countries could go on decades fighting each other with everything except guns. But someday, all the bickering will come to an end, whether for good or bad. After all, the War of the Pacific was sparked by a Bolivian tax on Chilean businesses.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Army Upgrades Transport Units with More Than 400 New Trucks

The Army's logistics units just got a big boost with the acquisition of more than 400 new trucks. The purchase replaces trucks that had been in service at least 30 years. Mercedez-Benz won a big part of the contract, supplying 278 trucks. It is providing Unimog 4000 4x4, Atego N1023 crane-equipped trucks, and the larger-capacity Zetros 1833 4x4 truck. Under a separate project, 154 engineering vehicles were acquired also. Bulldozers, excavation vehicles, wheeled graders, 4X4 loaders, forklifts and fueling trucks were in that upgrade. Capable trucks like these serve an important role in supplying and moving the Army. But they also are valuable assets at times of natural disasters. In fact, President Bachelet says the replacement program was pushed forward after heavy flooding in the north of Chile in 2015. The new trucks are being deployed with Army units all along the country.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Army Clears Way for Women to Become Generals

Chile's Army has ended the separate officer grades that kept women from advancing to the highest ranks of the service. The highest rank any woman in the Army could reach was colonel. But starting this month, men and women are under the same rank structure, meaning women can advance to brigadier general, and perhaps even elevate themselves to commander in chief of the army. Women make up about 14% of Chile' armed forces, including officers and civilian personnel, and the military has slowly opened access to combat roles. Some restrictions do remain. For example, only a certain number of slots are open to women who want to enlist or become professional soldiers.

Monday, February 27, 2017

How to Defend Chile, an Overview

It's been said that Chile is an island. The Pacific Ocean, the Andes mountains and the arid northern desert are natural barriers that provide the country with ample separation from the rest of the continent. Those geographic features also afford Chile with formidable borders against foreign aggressors, and they are one reason the nation has seen few wars in its 206-year history. But Chile's unusually vertical geography is also its weakness and a challenge for military planners. Along much of the country, there's only one major north-south highway, and big chunks of territory can be cut off if those roads are blocked. This Achilles' heel became all too apparent after the 2010 earthquake and tsunami. With the main highway collapsed at several points, there was no way to reach many communities except by air or sea. Thus, air and sea transport are essential elements of the country's defense. Neither is well equipped, however. The Navy's transport fleet has a capable multi-role ship, a transport vessel (with capacity for 250 passengers) and three 1,400-ton landing ships. The Air Force has five or six Hercules C-130 transports, three KC-135s, one 767, one 737 (another 737 is for VIP transport) and about a dozen Twin Otter light transports. Those assets could keep a few battalions supplied during a conflict, and would be critical in any high-intensity conflict. On the ground, the Army has scores of trucks it can utilize to support its troops in the north and south, and private trucking could also be employed. Even with damaged roads and bridges, Army engineering units would be able to keep supplies moving, especially if there's enough air defense to protect against air attack. In future posts, this analysis will continue with a look at how land, sea and air units play their roles in defending Chile.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

As Fires Burn, Chile Finds Itself Short on Firefighting Aircraft

A historic wave of forest fires has left much of Chile charred, a disaster that has underscored a lack of aircraft capable of fighting blazes. Fueled by years of drought, dozens of forest fires have broken out in the central and southern parts of the country. Teams from South America, France and other nations have rushed to the aid of Chilean crews overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the inferno. Some of those countries provided helicopters and airplanes with water-dropping equipment. Good thing, because apart from some helicopters dunking large buckets of water, the military has no aircraft with specialized equipment. Brazil's air force sent a pair of C-130 Hercules that are capable of spraying large areas of flames, and some planes like that would be valuable in Chile, where forest fires break out every year. As they do in any disaster, Chile's armed forces jumped into action with bulldozers, security forces and other resources. Many soldiers have been pressed into service as firefighters. Military helicopters and planes are being used to ferry firefighters and equipment. Now, they may get some firefighting equipment. A group of lawmakers is pushing to create a firefighting brigade within the military, and to acquire airplanes specially equipped to battle fires, according to a report posted in Noticias FFAA Chile. As long as the military is responding to disasters, it will need to make firefighting one of its areas of responsibility.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Patrol Vessel Program Expands Into Warship Role

The Navy is getting more ambitious with its offshore patrol vessel program. What began as a four-unit fleet of modestly armed boats quickly was increased to five, and the newer ships have a 76 mm main gun. (The first two OPVs had a 40 mm gun.) Now, the Navy says it's considering using the successful Fassmer-class platform to build corvettes. Chile needs to replace its three remaining missile boats, and hopes the replacement ships will increase capabilities. After putting three OPVs into service since 2007, the Navy's Asmar shipyard has gained valuable experience building the 1,850-ton vessels and feels confident to take on a larger project. This is not a new idea. From the beginning of the program, the Navy had an eye on evolving its OPVs into small combat ships. A report in Jane's, via Noticias FF AA Chile, notes that the new ships could be operational by the time the three Saar 4 missile craft will be retired, within a decade. The corvettes might also be called  littoral combat ships, and they would carry anti-ship missiles and an air defense system, plus more sensors. Removing the hangar and landing deck on the existing design, Chile's OPVs would have enough room to add those components. Jane's report says the corvettes would be at least 2,200 tons.