Friday, November 30, 2018

The Ironic Tale of Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre

A Chilean court sentenced a former commander of the Army to three years' probation over human rights violations. This case marks an ironic twist of fate for an officer who played a central role in the return of democracy after military rule in 1973-1990. Retired Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre was convicted of covering up the execution of political dissidents at an Army regiment in the days following the Sept. 11, 1973 military coup. At the time, Cheyre was a 25-year-old officer serving as an assistant to the regiment's commander. Cheyre eventually rose to the highest post in the Army, becoming its commander in 2002-06. It was then that Cheyre made history by declaring that the Army would "never again" rise against a democratic government. It was pivotal point in Chile's transition to democracy. Moreover, he was the first military leader to acknowledge publicly that Chile's military committed human rights abuses during its rule. Scores of other military officers have been convicted over human rights, but the Cheyre case is one that has left many Chileans conflicted and perplexed. Cheyre is appealing his sentence.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Navy Goes Shopping for Frigates

Chile's Defense Minister Alberto Espina confirmed the Navy started looking to acquire three frigates to replace warships that have been in service since 1986. The three ships slated for retirement are the two air defense frigates — FFG-11 Almirante Prat and FFG-14 Almirante Latorre — and the flagship FF-19 Almirante Williams. The latter is a Type 22 frigate acquired from the British navy in 2003. The Prat and Latorre are Class L frigates that were acquired from the Netherlands in 2005 and 2006. While the Navy has bought used ships to renovate its surface fleet, Espina said Chile is looking for "new" warships. The cost of building new is many times that of buying used, so it'll be interesting if Chile goes that route. Around the turn of the century, Chile planned to build its own frigates. But the staggering cost of new ships and the availability of used but capable vessels caused the Navy to opt for bargains. In January, the Navy started discussing plans to replace its oldest surface units. The plans also include replacing naval helicopters. The Navy has an aging fleet of Cougar anti-submarine helicopters and Dauphin light helicopters that are used for drug interdiction, sea patrols, search and rescue and other missions. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Chile Turns to Military's Technology for Border Security

To protect its international borders, Chile relies mainly on manned outposts. But they're no match against a formidable combination of smuggling and illegal crossings in the northern reaches of the country. Government leaders now are turning to the armed forces for help, specifically for electronic sensors that can be brought to bear on the border. The border security program seeks to coordinate agencies and increase the use of technology to combat criminal activity. That includes military units that can gather information and coordinate with civilian authorities. Already, the armed forces have played a role in border patrol. The Navy, in particular, is tasked with policing the nation's oceans and has a key role in the new program. Drugs, weapons, stolen cars, cigarettes and even human trafficking filter through the largely undefended and uncontrolled border with Peru and Bolivia.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Chile Boosting its Links to NATO

Chile's military plans to increase its role with NATO, as it seeks to become a Level 2 member nation of the defense alliance. Chile is currently a Level 1 member, which gives it limited participation in NATO planning, according to Level 2 would give Chile a greater role and the ability to make its own military products available to supply NATO. Indeed, the upgrade would be largely a larger logistical integration. Already, Chile has a logistics structure and weapons systems at least similar to NATO and participates regularly with U.S. forces in exercises. So the higher NATO role seems like a logical extension of the relationship with western military powers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Chile Takes Larger Role in 2018 RIMPAC Exercises

Chile's Navy is making its customary deployment to the biannual RIMPAC naval exercise in the Pacific Ocean, and this time it's getting a leading role. Chile is serving as combined force maritime component commander of the 26-nation exercise. It's the first time such a role is handed to a non-founding nation of RIMPAC, an acronym for Rim of the Pacific. U.S.-led RIMPAC was first staged in 1971 and Chile joined for the first time in 1996. The 26th version of RIMPAC features 47 surface ships, five submarines, 18 land forces, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel. Chile's participation includes the frigate Almirante Lynch and a marine platoon. As it is for most nations with an export economy, Chile relies heavily on shipping lanes. About 90% of its international trade moves over the oceans, and Chile is the third largest user of the Panama Canal, after the U.S. and China. Chile's Navy also is a regular participant in the PANAMAX naval exercises. RIMPAC runs from June 27 to Aug. 2 around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Chile Acquires More Super Tucanos, May Use Them at Bolivian Border

Chile's Air Force has purchased six additional A-29 Super Tucano light attack planes from Brazil's Embraer, a deal that has not been announced publicly, says a report in The defense publication notes that two of the new planes were transported to Chile in March, citing flight-tracking data. InfoDefensa adds that the new Super Tucanos will be used to patrol the border with Bolivia. Chile purchased a dozen A-29s in 2008 and uses them in flight instruction and light attack roles. With Bolivia demanding talks on regaining access to the Pacific Ocean, relations with Chile are strained. Chile has established at least one border outpost, while Bolivia plans to set up 19 posts along the Chilean border. The military significance of those posts is minor, and they are primarily designed to combat smuggling and other illegal trafficking. The Chile-Bolivia border is notorious for lax controls and dozens of unauthorized entry points for smugglers, stolen cars and drugs.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Fidae 2018: Hundreds of Companies, but Few Deals

The Fidae air show drew more than 400 exhibitors for its 20th edition this month, solidifying its role as the largest aviation trade show in Latin America. This year's aircraft display included the F-22 Raptor, F-35, A-400 and C-17 transports, KC-10 tanker and Airbus A350 jetliner. But while Fidae is Latin America's go-to event for defense and aerospace companies, there was little news announced. Only a few minor deals made headlines. One item was a program to extend the operational life of the Chilean Navy Pilatus PC-7 training planes. That's hardly a smashing headline, and the military press had to settle for crumbs. To be sure, major defense contractors save some of their biggest announcements for the top air shows in Paris, Dubai and Farnborough. The latter takes place in July. Military spending in Latin America is modest compared with other regions. But there's a burgeoning market for commercial aviation. Airbus Commercial Aircraft estimates a requirement for 2,700 planes over the next 20 years in Latin America.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

What Can Chile's Military Expect from Piñera 2.0?

Sebastian Piñera takes office Sunday after being elected president for a second non-consecutive term. The center-right Piñera has broad plans for the military, but little in terms of weapons modernization. Instead, his platform calls for administrative and organizational changes, such as beefing up cyberdefense, updating the management of state-owned defense companies and maintaining alliances with friendly nations. But there are a few noteworthy goals. One is to increase transparency in the armed forces, which is almost an obligatory task after scandals surfaced in the past year. Piñera also seeks changes in the military service to improve the call-up of reserves in case of emergency, which in Chile primarily means assisting with natural disasters. Another key goal is replacing the tax on government-owned Codelco with a new financing mechanism for weapons acquisitions. The mining company can use more capital to modernize and the 10% tax is a drag. However, three previous administrations (including Piñera's first term) have failed to move forward on those plans. The so-called copper law seems as entrenched as empanadas on Independence Day. The Harvard-trained Piñera's larger security issues are internal, namely the indigenous uprising in the south of Chile, border security and everyday crime and the ills associated with it, such as recidivism and organized crime. Piñera has sort of a clean slate to start with. He's named a longtime senator as his minister of defense, and a new general has just assumed the leadership of the Army.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

After Investigation is Fumbled, Will Anyone Face Terror Charges?

Chile's police force is facing a major crisis after investigators were found to be planting evidence in one of the biggest sweeps against indigenous militants. Carabineros unleashed Operation Hurricane last September, rounding up a number of Mapuche activists and charging them with attacks on ranchers, logging trucks and churches. But the case started unraveling when word leaked out that police had fabricated incriminating messages on the defendants' WhatsApp and Telegram messaging apps. What would have been one of the largest crackdowns on the wave of arson and armed attacks by Mapuche extremists has now collapsed in embarrassing form. On Feb. 9, a judge dismissed all charges against 10 defendants in the case, leaving police and prosecutors empty handed and with egg on their faces. After years of extremist attacks in the Araucania region, authorities have little to show for their work. Attackers have escaped time after time using simple but effective tactics under the cover of darkness. Truckers and others who have been victimized have reason to believe Carabineros are failing to tackle one of the biggest security problems in Chile. But the episode also reinforces Mapuche claims that police are violating their rights. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Navy's Ambitions: New Frigates, Major Upgrades

Chile's Navy completed the renovation of its surface fleet in 2008, when it took delivery of the last of three Type 23 frigates purchased from Britain. Ten years later, the Navy is looking to start anew with replacements for its oldest warships. First on the list are the two L-Class air-defense frigates acquired from the Netherlands in 2004. The ships are armed with SM-1 and Sea Sparrow missiles capable of giving a naval task force a protective umbrella of up to 20 nautical miles. That's limited by modern standards. The SM-1 has been retired from US Navy service for nearly 15 years, and manufacturer Raytheon will stop providing support for the missile in two years. The ship hulls already are more than 30 years old. FFG-11 Capitan Prat and FFG-14 Almirante Latorre are set for retirement in 2025. As it did a decade ago, the Navy will consider building ships in its own shipyards. But second-hand ships likely will be cheaper and faster to procure. The more-immediate projects are the upgrades to the Type 23 frigates. This month, the first frigate is starting work that includes installing Lockheed Martin's CMS 330 combat management system, MBDA's CAMM anti-aircraft missiles, and the TRS-4D radar from Hensoldt. Also in January, the SS-20 Thomson undergoes a comprehensive refit that will extend the submarine's service life by about 10 years. Meanwhile, construction continues on the Fassmer-class offshore patrol vessels, with four of six ships already delivered.