Monday, April 24, 2017
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
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
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 18th 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
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
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
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
Saturday, January 21, 2017
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.