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.

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.