Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Hercules Plane Lost at Sea; Searchers Find Debris, Parts

A piece of the missing Herc?
An Air Force C-130H Hercules disappeared Dec. 9 en route to Antartica, and debris located near the point of last contact appears ti be from the missing aircraft. Pieces of foam that may be from the fuel tanks were spotted about 30 km south of the last known location, FACh announced Nov. 11. Later in the day, Brazil's government said its polar ship found more pieces of wreckage and personal belongings. On Twitter, photos showed an aircraft wheel being pulled from the water. The search area had been expanded to an area of 700 km by 250 km, basically between the southern tip of South America and Antartica. Chile's Air Force is using F-16 and F-5 fighter jets, transport planes and helicopters to scan the ocean, while the Navy assigned patrol planes, two frigates, an offshore patrol vessel and its multi-role ship to the search. Teams from Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Uruguay joined the mission. The U.S. sent a Poseidon P-8A maritime reconnaissance plane from El Salvador to aid searchers. Satellites are taking images of the search zone as well. The Hercules was on a routine mission to resupply one of several bases Chile operates in Antartica. The 38 passengers and crew were mainly FACh personnel, plus three Army officers, two contract workers and one university engineer. The bases are used not just to plant the flag on the Antartic territory, but to conduct a number of scientific projects. The plane went down in the treacherous and frigid waters of what's known as Drake's Passage, complicating search efforts. There was no distress signal, and the plane was declared lost once it became clear it would not make its destination. The C-130H is said to have been in good operating conditions, although it had a long service life since it was built in 1978. It was acquired from the U.S. in 2015. Update: Searchers have found more wreckage of the plane and human remains. Officials say all 38 on board are presumed dead.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Possible Consequences Chile's Military Faces in the Post-Revolt Era

Chile's military has been withdrawn from the streets after spending a 10-day deployment in security tasks during the state of emergency. As short as the mission was, it has left an indelible mark on the military. Not only is it dealing with the aftermath of shooting incidents, but its future could be altered as Chile deals with a populace seeking fundamental societal changes. These are some changes the armed forces could face:
  • For many years, the Army, Navy and Air Force found enough volunteers to fill its ranks, avoiding a need to draft young people. Will this year's revolt cause fewer to enlist?
  • With bigger security problems on the domestic side, can the military justify spending on strategic weapons such as armor or air defense systems? Will the Navy delay replacing two frigates? Meanwhile, the exit of Bolivian leader Evo Morales eases Chile's peskiest international threat.
  • The armed forces nurtured an image of community service, providing aid during natural disasters and staying neutral in politics. That image took a hit with the deployment, although many Chileans welcomed troops. To be fair, the protests showed there's a faction in Chile that is always hostile against the military.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Why Chile's Military Finds Itself in a No-Win Situation as it Faces Protesters

It didn't take long for Chile's military to register its first casualties in the country's mass protests. In the city of Curicó, an Army soldier is being held in the shooting death of a 25-year-old protester. In La Serena, an Ecuadorian man was killed by gunfire that is said to have come from a military patrol. In Coquimbo another fatal shooting may have been caused by troops. In Talcahuano, a man was run over by a military truck. These and other incidents are making the military's role one that's increasingly difficult and controversial -- and one it didn't want. The armed forces reluctantly joined the efforts to pacify thousands of demonstrators. Asked about President Sebastian Piñera's description of events as a "war," Army chief Gen. Javier Iturriaga replied, "I am not at war with anyone." Indeed, the military finds itself in a tough spot, facing hostile crowds and unable to control the crisis the way it did in 2010. Back then, troops took to the streets to stop looting in the wake of a great earthquake. People welcomed soldiers. But this time, the armed forces are combatants. It didn't help that before this month's violent outbreak, several cases of corruption had tarnished the military's reputation. Gen. Iturriaga and other commanders may spend years dealing with consequences of the October revolt.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Military Breaks Long Tradition Of Avoiding Protests As Chile Struggles To Control Riots

For the first time since military rule, Chile's Army and Marines have been ordered into the streets to quell massive protests. The order came after protesters set fire to subway stations, buses and stores in Santiago in a movement that quickly spread to other provinces. President Sebastian Piñera, overwhelmed by the scale of destruction, ordered the armed forces to help restore order Oct. 19. Much of the country was place under a state of emergency. Defense Minister Alberto Espina said troops were deployed to protect critical infrastructure installations, such as power plants and water facilities, that were threatened or came under attack. But troops are also patrolling streets and facing protesters. Soldiers are armed with assault rifles and live ammunition, and shots have been fired at rioters. All this makes for a messy situation for Chile's military, which had stayed away from public strife since the return of democracy nearly 30 years ago. Troops were deployed after the February 2010 earthquake to control massive looting. But this time, the military is in the thick of a political convulsion that has no easy or short-term answers. Troops are facing threats that are not part of their regular training, creating a risky mix of tension and firepower. As of Sunday, Oct. 20, troops remained on patrol with Humvees, trucks, Mowag 6x6 and 8x8 armored vehicles. More than 9,000 troops were deployed over the weekend, but even then it was not enough to cover all the flashpoints. Local television showed some neighborhoods organizing their own security, with whatever weapons they could muster.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Some Weapons Acquisitions Flying Under the Radar

Military hardware spending has been limp for several years in Chile, but there have been some noteworthy acquisitions. Here's the highlights from 2016-18, pulled from the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

  • Four Thales Ground Master air defense radars. The three-dimensional radar system can be used on fixed or mobile platforms, and has an operational range of 470 km and 100,000 feel in elevation. There is no information on which branch of the armed forces bought the radars, and there is no confirmation of delivery.
  • Two Airbus Helicopters AS-532 Cougars from France. These are transport helicopters for the Navy that were delivered in 2016.
  • Three Hensoldt TRS-4D Multifunction radars from Germany. These 3D radars, with a range of 250 km, were installed on the Navy's three Type 23 frigates.
  • MBDA CAMM  air defense missiles (Sea Ceptor). Also part of the modernization of the Type 23 frigates, the Common Anti-Air Modular System was delivered in 2017, according to SIPRI's database. Sea Ceptor has a range of more than 25 km.

Other acquisitions in the database include items that have been in the news already, such as the Black Hawk MH-60M utility helicopters and Hercules KC-130R tankers for FACh.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Chile's Military Surrenders its Prized Treasure as 'Copper Law' Ends

Chile's government struck down the principal funding mechanism for weapons systems, which for decades provided billions of dollars and made it possible to acquire top fighter jets, armor and warships. The legislature, where the plan had stalled for nine years, finally voted to end the so-called copper law July 24, and President Sebastian Piñera will sign the bill Aug. 6. For more than 60 years, the state-owned Codelco copper mining company passed on 10% of export sales to the armed forces for weapons purchases. (In 2018 alone, Codelco's total sales were $14.3 billion, most of it in exports.) Now, the military will compete for funds along with all other government agencies. Here are the key points of the new law:
  • Each year, minimum spending floors will be set for maintenance and updates of weapons systems. Those will be based roughly on the average costs over the preceding six-year period. By some estimates, that could be $500 million a year.
  • An eight-year strategic spending policy will guide major acquisitions, and those will be budgeted in four-year increments.
  • All funds that had accumulated from Codelco are being turned over to the national treasury. But the government will create a strategic contingency fund to replace equipment that suffers major damage. It may also be used for acquisitions under the strategic plans.
  • Codelco's annual contributions are not going away anytime soon. It will continue to provide 10% of sales for nine years. After that, its payments will phase out over three additional years.
  • The new law includes steps that shift spending oversight away from the military and into the hands of the elected government. For example, the government's comptroller will review each four-year spending plan, and legislative committees will have an oversight role. In general, defense procurement will become more transparent.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Chile's Military Goes All in Against Drug Trafficking

Chile's armed forces have a new mission: They are the latest weapon against drug trafficking, especially in border areas. President Sebastian Piñera signed a decree that gives the military expanded powers and sets guidelines for their new role. The Army, Navy and Air Force will collaborate with police agencies to combat illegal drugs and organized crime. It's a landmark decision because governments have been reluctant to put the military in domestic security tasks since military rule ended in 1990. Piñera, however, says drug trafficking is an epidemic that must be fought with all available tools. Those tools are surveillance equipment, electronic sensors and logistical support the military can provide to watch over a porous border in the north of Chile. There are reservations, if not criticism, of the plan by some government officials, especially among the opposition. Determined to keep memories of the military junta in the past, some want assurances that the military's role will be limited and that the police will not become subordinate to the generals. Others are skeptical that the military can be an effective crime-fighter. The country's comptroller has requested more details and wants Piñera to better define what he means by "collaboration."  

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Chile To Acquire Armored Vehicles for Marines: Report

Chile's marines plan to purchase a dozen Coyote LAV reconnaissance vehicles from Canadian surplus stockpiles. reported that negotiations continue on the deal, and that Chile is seeking new engines and spare parts as part of the purchase. Deliveries could begin as early as this year. The Ottawa Citizen, however, indicates that a sale remains far from ready, and that Canada has yet to officially list the vehicles for sale. That doesn't necessarily mean there's no interest from Chile. Weapons deal often are secretive until all terms are agreed upon. The Coyotes would likely replace Scorpion light tanks the marines use in a reconnaissance role, only the Coyotes are much better equipped. The Coyote LAV is a variant of the Piranha family of light armored vehicles. Armed with a 25mm M242 Bushmaster cannon, the Coyote's main characteristic is a suite of electronic sensors that can be elevated on a 10-meter telescoping mast. This gives the Coyote a superior ability to watch over large areas of the battlefield. Its radar can find targets out to 24 km, and other sensors have a range of 15 km. Coyotes can track an area for days or weeks at a time. This capability has made the Coyote an effective weapon in peacekeeping missions and in combat areas such as Afghanistan. The Scorpions are the only armor in Chile's marine force, which consists of a few battalions around key naval assets plus an embarked battalion.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Ex Army Commander Faces Trial for Money Laundering

Retired Gen. Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba goes to court May 30 to face charges that he laundered state funds to cover personal expenses. The sums involved total about 700 million pesos, or about $1 million U.S. dollars. Prosecutors believe Fuente-Alba used Army funds while he was the top commander to pay for relatives' travel and for other personal expenses. He is also accused of making payments to certain Army personnel who were close to him. The case is one of many corruption scandals that have shaken Chilean government and business in the past several years. The Army saw many of its Pinochet-era officers convicted of human rights violations, and there wasn't much controversy among the top brass until the corruption cases started emerging. Fuente-Alba is one of three former Army commanders facing charges. Gen. Humberto Oviedo, who led the Army in 2014-2018, also is being investigated for using funds to pay for family travel. Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre was convicted in a case that echoed back to the human rights era. As a recent graduate of the military academy at the time, Cheyre accompanied officers who took part in the killing of 10 persons following the 1973 coup. Sentenced to three years of probation for covering up the crimes, Cheyre was soon indicted for a series of abuses. He denies those charges.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Chile's Navy Signs Up for Two More Dutch Frigates

Chile's Navy is taking early steps to acquire two Class M frigates from the Netherlands, as the Navy looks to replace some of its older warships. The Navy signed a letter of intent to acquire the Van Amstel and Van Speijk once those ships are retired from Dutch service, reports say. The Van Amstel could be transferred in 2024 and the Van Speijk in 2027. The acquisition means Chile would own half of the Class M frigates ever built, having already purchased a pair of Class M ships in 2004 from the Netherlands. Chile is looking to replace two Class L frigates that were part of the acquisition of the Class M ships. The L frigates are air defense ships, and their retirement would leave the Armada without a platform for long-range anti-aircraft missiles.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

7 Years After Acquisition, Chile's Hermes UAV Finally Goes Public

For the first time since they were acquired, Chile's Air Force has put one of its Hermes 900 on public display, ending a seven-year period in which the high-altitude UAV was kept shrouded. FACh this month showed off a Hermes 900 in a display of aircraft tasked to fight wildfires. The UAV is equipped with an electronics payload to monitor burn areas and relay information to command posts and coordinate firefighting efforts. The Hermes on display was also equipped with a dorsal antenna for satellite links. FACh is also using transport planes and helicopters to ferry firefighting units, and at least one UH-1H Huey helicopter has been fitted with a water bucket. Chile confirmed the purchase of the Hermes 900 in 2011, but had kept it out of public view. FACh acquired from Israel's Elbit Systems three UAVs and support equipment in what was its first purchase of high-performance UAVs. Hermes 900 can fly to a maximum altitude of 20,000 feet and can stay aloft for as much as 26 hours. Other branches of Chile's military also are providing assistance to fight brush fires.