Saturday, December 31, 2016

Navy Decides on Upgrades as it Faces Scandal

The Navy has been the most active of Chile's military branches this month, for good and bad. The three Type 23 frigates, the most modern of the fleet, will undergo extensive upgrades. Those include installing the Sea Ceptor air-defense missile to replace the Sea Wolf that came with the purchase of the vessels from Britain. The Sea Ceptor, which has a range of 25 km, is made by MBDA Missile Systems, a European consortium. The Type 23s also are getting the TRS 4D radar system from Airbus Defense and the CMS 330 naval combat system from Lockheed Martin Canada, according to Defensa.com. The project exceeds $180 million, and Chile's Asmar and Sisdef will participate in the project. Defensa.com also has reported that the Navy acquired Exocet Block III anti-ship missiles for at least one of its frigates, in what could be the first time the Exocet replaces the U.S.-made Harpoon system. Earlier this year, the Navy signed a contract with Canada-based IMP Aerospace for a major upgrade of P-3 Orion maritime reconnaissance aircraft, according to InfoDefensa. The project includes replacing parts of the wings and horizontal stabilizer on two P-3s plus new avionics systems and improved engines. Now, for the bad news: Nine sailors are under investigation for secretly installing video cameras with the intention of secretly taping female sailors aboard the frigate Almirante Lynch. The sailors face criminal charges and the scandal could hurt Chile's efforts to integrate more women into the armed forces. Update: The first Orion has left Chile to undergo its midlife upgrade, the Navy announced. The work will extend the service life of each P-3 by about 20 years.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Deals Widen Cooperation with Key Suppliers Airbus, Lockheed Martin

Chile's Ministry of Defense has signed cooperation agreements with two of its most important providers of military hardware. In one accord, the Air Force's Enaer aerospace company formed a partnership with Airbus to increase business opportunities for both companies in production and maintenance of aircraft and space programs. The agreement gives Enaer a measure of prestige by aligning itself with one of the top aviation companies in the world. Enaer has struggled to build its business, which has been primarily to serve as the maintenance arm of FACh. Airbus has made sales to Chile of C-235, C-295, a satellite and helicopters. Chile also has reached an agreement with Lockheed Martin to produce spare parts for the C-130 Hercules tactical transport planes. Chile operates five or six C-130s, including at least two that were transferred from U.S. stockpiles. Chile Navy uses Lockheed's P-3 Orion maritime reconnaissance airplane (which Lockheed is updating to a mid-life upgrade), and the F-16 forms the backbone of Chile's fighter force. FACh also is acquiring a half-dozen Black Hawk helicopters from Sikorsky, a division of Lockheed.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Chile Widens Military Ties with U.S.

The defense chiefs of the U.S. and Chile have signed a cooperation agreement, the latest step in a relationship that already has grown quite close between the two nations. The accord paves the way for research, development, testing and evaluation of defense projects. Already, Chile is one of the closest military allies of the U.S. in Latin America. The two countries operate a training center for peacekeeping missions in Chile, and there are frequent joint exercises. Chile's military is increasingly modeling itself after the U.S. and NATO, to the point that it can be viewed as an extension of U.S. military power. In the event of hostilities, Chile would have a lot of compatibility with their American counterparts, making it easy to operate jointly in a battlefield of the future. U.S. officials view such relationships as not only a projection of force, but also as a way to blunt the influence of rivals. China's military, for instance, has been making inroads with some Latin governments. Russia has clients for its weapons systems in Peru, Venezuela and other countries.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Chile Plans to End Military Funding from Copper as Cash Cow Runs Dry

The largest source of money for weapons acquisitions may finally be dismantled. Chile's government is moving to eliminate a 10% tax on the state-owned Codelco mining company's sales, a sum that goes directly for defense purchases. Plans to end the so-called copper law fizzled in two previous administrations, but now the proposal has more momentum than ever. Why? In short, because Codelco is running desperately low on cash. Depressed copper prices and lower-quality ores have combined to force Codelco to suffer losses. Usually the government's cash cow, Codelco now is seeking a government infusion of cash. The crisis has fanned hopes to free Codelco from its responsibility to the military, as officials revive a plan that would put acquisitions under general expenditures and place major programs in multi-year budget cycles. With a scandal unfolding in the armed forces' procurement process, lawmakers also see an opportunity to gain greater financial control. Since the boom in commodities in the 2000s, the copper tax provided Chile's military with more than $1 billion almost every year. That gave Chile the funds to make major upgrades of its warships, fighter jets and armor units. But now the price of copper is about half its peak in 2011. The money Codelco has passed on is far more than what Chile's military has spent, leaving a reserve that some estimate at more than $6 billion, which is being managed in a sovereign wealth fund. There's been little comment from the generals, but there is concern. Army chief Gen. Humberto Oviedo said Chile's run of more than 100 years without a war has been the result of a well-equipped military, and that advantage must be ensured. Because most weapons deals are financed over many years, the armed forces want to ensure themselves of a predictable source of funds.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

After 13 Years, Chile Will Exit Haiti Peacekeeping Mission

It was a long time coming, but Chile is ending its participation in the United Nations' stabilization force in Haiti. The government announced it will withdraw all troops in April, ending a 13-year role in the multinational peacekeeping mission. Defense Minister Jose Antonio Gomez said Haiti's elections symbolize the stabilization of the Caribbean nation, and that future international help will be in the form of policing rather than military operations. Chile has 436 troops in Haiti and had already pared its contingent the past couple of years. Chile's leaders had expressed reservations about the lengthy stay of the UN force in Haiti, part of the political pressure to take the troops home. The withdrawal doesn't mean Chile is getting out of the peacekeeping business. Gomez said Chile and Argentina are discussing sending an engineering unit from their joint task force to the Central African Republic, where Chile has a token UN presence thus far. In Colombia, Chile will have 75 observers watching over the peace deal between the Bogota government and FARC rebels. There may be other missions, Gomez added.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Purchase of 6 Black Hawk Helicopters All But Finalized

An Air Force general confirmed Chile has decided to buy a half-dozen Black Hawk helicopters. Most negotiations already are worked out and only the final details are pending. FACh is acquiring the Sikorsky S70i, the export version of the Black Hawk military configuration. The new helicopters are part of a process that started seven years ago to replace aged Bell UH-1H copters. In 2007, FACh acquired a dozen Bell 412EP to begin the modernization of its rotorcraft. Even before then, the Air Force acquired a single S60 Black Hawk that operates in the less-accessible regions of southern Chile. Details on cost, deliveries and electronic equipment of the new Black Hawks were not disclosed. Earlier this year, Air Force officials said they were looking for a helicopter model with in-flight refueling booms, advanced navigation systems and other equipment for combat search and rescue missions. Besides training missions, the most important roles for FACh helicopters are civilian search and rescue and disaster aid. Update: The order has been increased to eight Black Hawks, according to a report.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Navy Launches New Patrol Ship as Construction Plans Expand

The fourth offshore patrol vessel for Chile's Navy was launched this month, adding to a program that already qualifies as one of the most important in the nation's history. OPV-84 Cabo Odger -- being assigned to the naval base in Iquique -- is based on the German Fassmer class, although Chile has added a helicopter deck to its own boats. Each OPV has a crew of 32, a 40mm or 76mm gun and can operate for up to 30 days. They are multi-role ships, with capabilities for maritime policing, search and rescue and logistic support. The OPV program stared in 2005, with initial plans for four vessels. But that was expanded to five and now six ships are planned. For a reasonable price (each costs $70 million to build in Chile's Asmar shipyard), the Navy gets a corvette-sized ship displacing 1,850 tons that can watch over the country's vast ocean territory at a lower cost than if frigates were used. The vessels also help offset the loss of several missile boats that have been retired. The program also gave Chile important know-how to expand its shipbuilding industry, and included the participation of some Chilean companies. Defense electronics contractors DESA and SISDEF supply key components to the OPVs.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Tensions with Bolivia Grow; Chile Says It's Taking Measures

The political row between Chile and Bolivia is getting nastier. Bolivian President Evo Morales doesn't miss a chance to accuse Chile of violating his country's rights, and Bolivian Chancellor David Choquehuanca said the country is ready to "shed blood" to defend against Chilean aggression. Such inflamed comments prompted Chilean Minister of Defense Jose Antonio Gomez to accuse Morales of trying to ignite a clash, and to reassure Chileans that he has "taken measures" to deal with any circumstances that threaten the nation's sovereignty. Not since the 1970s has Chile faced such hostility from a neighboring country. Of course, angry feelings from Bolivia are nothing new. In the 19th Century War of the Pacific, Chile conquered Bolivia's coastal territory, leaving it landlocked and dependent on Chile for access to ports. Militarily, Chile has a vast superiority, so the chance of an armed conflict is remote. Instead, Bolivia seems to be litigating the consequences of the War of the Pacific through a propaganda campaign and through challenges to a 1904 treaty. The dispute could last years, with Bolivia finding new ways to harass its neighbor to the west. It didn't help matters that China gave Bolivia a fleet of 31 armored vehicles. China may not necessarily be choosing sides, but could be just looking to improve relations with countries from where it wants to acquire natural resources. After all, China is Chile's biggest buyer of copper, and Chile and China have some military ties themselves.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

U.S. OK's Sale of Seasparrow Missiles to Chile

Chile's Navy is acquiring the Evolved Seasparrow missile, the first significant naval anti-aircraft improvement since a pair of air-defense frigates were purchased in 2004. The $140 million deal includes 39 Seasparrows, three MK 41 launching systems (multi-purpose launchers that are installed below deck) and support equipment. The Seasparrows are planned for Chile's three Type 23 frigates, the most modern in the fleet. The Raytheon-built missiles have a maximum range of more than 50 km and are capable of defeating high-speed anti-ship missiles as well as aircraft. Seasparrow also can be used against surface targets. The Type 23 frigates currently have the British-made Sea Wolf missile, a system designed as a last line of defense against aircraft and anti-ship missiles.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

In the South, the Uprising Continues; Churches Targeted

Indigenous extremists continue their campaign of violence in the south of Chile, although authorities were finally able to win a conviction. Seven Mapuches were sentenced to three years for their role in the ambush of forestry workers. The most common form of attack is arson against forestry companies and ranchers. But gunfire is sometimes used, as was the case in June, when a home and a pickup truck were damaged by bullets. A news report revealed an armed militia operating in the Araucania region. In a new phase in the conflict, churches are being attacked too. Evangelical churches in particular have asked the government for protection after some were hit by arsonists believed to be part of Mapuche extremist elements. The conflict has been raging for years, and two consecutive presidential administrations have been unable to prevent attacks, take down extremist cells or -- better yet -- find a solution to the Mapuches' grievances.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Promises of Aircraft and UAVs, but Few Details

In a rare public announcement of military acquisition plans, Chile says it will add three Hercules C-130H transport planes to supplement the air force's airlift capabilities. The acquisition — disclosed in an annual document outlining major government programs and goals — doesn't say from what country the planes are being purchased or if the planes will replace the old Hercules now in service with FACh. The H series Hercules were first delivered in the 1960s, so FACh certainly isn't getting any aircraft in their prime. President Michelle Bachelet's message merely said the planes will be used for troop transport, disaster relief and to reach remote areas of the country — roles that military aviation habitually handles. The government also said plans are proceeding for the purchase of multipurpose medium helicopters, a program that was announced earlier this year. The number or model of the helicopters is not mentioned, and the only background provided is that they'll be used for military operations and disaster relief. In addition, Chile says it will continue to acquire unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). But again, no details on how many or what type. The only detail provided is that the UAVs will be used for surveillance, reconnaissance and, of course, assistance in case of natural disasters. For the Navy, the only acquisition program mentioned was the replacement of the Skymaster light naval reconnaissance planes with P68 aircraft. Deliveries end in 2017. The Army is set to acquire 330 trucks of various types, with the priority going to vehicles capable of handling evacuations and cargo transport. Indeed, Chile is not preparing for war, but for the next natural disaster. Bachelet's document also says the Army is developing new electronic warfare systems and is implementing an integrated data and communications system to better track and control troop movements.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Army Post Sparks Outrage from Bolivia

Chile has set up an Army post near the border with Bolivia, in an area known for drug trafficking, auto theft and robberies. Only 13 soldiers are camped out in the small site, which is characterized as an observation post that works with police units in the region. Small as it may be, Bolivia's government has accused Chile of threatening the security of Bolivia and of breaking a treaty between the two nations. It's just the latest in a series of accusations the government of President Evo Morales has made in a thus-far fruitless campaign to win back the territory Chile conquered in the 19th-Century War of the Pacific. Truth be told, Bolivia has its own military post 1 1/2 kilometers from the Chilean border, and it's a much larger facility. Chilean officials, in turn, are accusing Bolivia of creating a controversy. Where is it all leading? Nowhere. Morales may score some political points at home with his bravado, but he has little leverage (or hope) to gain any part of the Pacific Ocean.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Corruption Probe Opens Window to Military's Secret Funding

Many of Chile's institutions have been caught up in various corruption probes, including government officials, major corporations and the soccer federation. Add the armed forces to that list. It started with accusations that some lower-ranked officers stole funds from a military budget whose expenditures are often kept from the public. Now, investigators are targeting a former head of the Army. Retired Gen. Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba is suspected of having improperly profited while he was commander in chief of the Army. Among the facts that have come to light during the probe is the extensive network of suppliers the Army uses. Some 120 companies sell goods and services to the Army, expenditures that are kept secret under the law. The sums totaled an average of $200 million between 2005 and 2014. That's roughly one-fifth of a budget derived from a 10% tax on sales by the state-owned Codelco mining giant. Under a government transparency program, the salaries of the military commanders is now disclosed. The Army chief makes 4,049,575 pesos a month, or nearly $6,000 in U.S. currency. The Navy's top officer earns close to $6,200 while the top Air Force general gets $6,600. Those are larger paychecks than their counterparts in Peru and Colombia receive, according to El Mercurio. A Chilean Army general in charge of a division earns $5,737 a month, and a brigadier general $5,466. The top Air Force officers make more than Army and Navy officers in the same rank. A FACh general earns $6,336 a month and a brigadier general $6,057.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Army Loses Puma Helicopter in Crash; Crew Member Killed

The stricken H-264
An Army helicopter crashed in the Andes, destroying the aircraft and leaving one of its crew members dead. The crew mechanic died at the scene of the April 20 accident, while the pilots and crew chief were injured and rescued. The helicopter was on a mission to provide maintenance to a repeater antenna in the mountains when it struck a rock and crashed, according to preliminary details. The helicopter was identified as a Puma with tail number H-264. Photos of the helicopter show it was one of the Pumas SA-330s that have been in the Army for several decades and that the Army has been trying to replace. The most recent acquisition of helicopters for the Army was a few Cougar helicopters, a newer and larger version of the Pumas, in 2013. Army officials have expressed interest in enlarging the fleet of medium helicopters. At the moment, only the Air Force (FACh) is in advanced plans to purchase helicopters.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Benefits for Civilian Life Help Boost Volunteers for Military Service

Volunteers fill the barracks.
This year, nearly 13,000 Chilean men and women will be entering military service, as enough volunteers stepped forward to fill the requirements of all three branches. Although the armed forces usually find enough volunteers, last year's recruitment class was short by 11%, which forced a draft. This year, nearly 20,000 sought entrance, meaning one-third were turned away. Why the big jump? The military stepped up its benefits. Today's volunteers have more incentives than other recruitment classes, such as new educational opportunities, a gateway to careers in police and the military, plus help with childcare and subsidies if a soldier enters higher education. Military service also provides young people with job training they can use in civilian life. Medical, machinery and auto repair are some of the fields that ex-soldiers can go into. In addition, those assigned to Chile's extreme areas get extra time off and airfare for a relative to visit. For the 2016 class, the Army is enlisting more than 12,000 (including 1,500 women), the Navy 500 and the Air Force 324.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Fidae Roundup: Helicopters Sought; Upgrades for Rifles, Orions

The biannual Fidae air show concluded this past weekend and, as it usually does, resulted in fresh updates on programs and acquisitions for Chile's armed forces. Here's a look at the most notable items out of the show:

The Air Force plans to purchase several medium-lift helicopters later this year. The favorite is said to be the Sikorsky Black Hawk, although the Russian Mil Mi-17, AgustaWestland AW139 and Airbus Helicopters H215M are also in contention. The $180 million deal would be for up to seven helicopters with high-altitude capabilities to operate in the Andes, in-flight refueling probes, advanced navigation systems and other equipment for combat search and rescue missions.

The Army is upgrading its SIG assault rifles under a program carried out by the military-owned Famae arms manufacturer. The upgrade includes adding Picatinny rails (to attach accessories) to the barrel portion of the gun, and a foldable buttstock, according to an article via Noticias FFAA Chile. Chile has about 50,000 serviceable SIG rifles in 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm versions. Front-line troops are being equipped with the Galil ACE 22 5.56 mm assault rifle, but other units will continue to use the SIG 540 and 542 models.

Lockheed Martin is replacing the wings on two Orion P-3 maritime reconnaissance planes, part of a midlife upgrade that includes new engines and cockpit improvements. Deliveries to the Navy are set for next year for the first plane and 2018 for the second, according to Defensa.com.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Women Allowed To Join Combat Units of Chile's Army

No more limitations
For the first time, women will be able to serve in all combat and front-line units of the Chilean Army. The new order allows women into the infantry and armored units, the last remaining areas that had been limited to men only. Females slowly have been integrated into Army combat units, in an evolution that already finds women in artillery, aviation and other units. The process began to take root in 1995, when women were first permitted to enter the Army academy. It continues today with a bill in the legislature that eliminates the female military service and replaces it with a gender-neutral system. The government and the Army view that as an important step to prevent sex discrimination. The number of women enlisting has been increasing as well. Only about 15% of Army personnel are female, although that figure has been rising every year.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Army Set to Replace Older Trucks

The Army has announced plans to acquire new trucks this year, as it tries to upgrade a fleet that includes some vehicles with 25 years of service. The bidding process has been completed, and the government has authorized funds for the acquisition. Deliveries could begin in September. Military trucks don't stir much interest or controversy the way that warplanes or tanks do, but the truck program is important in its own right. Chile's terrain — often inhospitable or inaccessible — has made military transport vehicles crucial to access many outlying communities. Those areas have come to rely on the armed forces for support. The program also reflects the Army's procurement philosophy, which seeks to ensure that maneuver units have adequate logistical equipment.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Army Reorganizes its Units, Again

The Army is reorganizing its divisions, although the changes are largely in how each unit is named. For example, three reinforced regiments in the north of Chile are now called motorized brigades. Another reinforced regiment that's part of the 3rd Mountain Division will go by the name of mountain "detachment," implying a smaller force than a regiment-sized unit. Similarly, other reinforced regiments were renamed "detachments." The Army has made some organizational changes in the past, such as when it created the mountain division. But the biggest change took place after Gen. Augusto Pinochet retired from the Army. Subsequent leaders took the country's various regiments and organized them into self-contained units with infantry, armor, logistics, engineer and other elements.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Chile Suffers Another Casualty in Haiti

An Air Force captain was wounded when he received a gunshot fired into Chile's aviation facility in Port-au-Prince. The shooting occurred while the officer, who is a surgeon, was walking inside the base, and it has prompted new security measures. It is unclear if the shot was aimed at Chilean personnel at the base, or if it was just a random shooting. The shooting is one of a few casualties Chile's forces have suffered in Haiti since joining the UN's peacekeeping force nearly 12 years ago. Two have been shot to death, and a third committed suicide. More than 4,500 police and troops from 19 nations are still participating in the UN force.