Friday, May 19, 2017

Navy to Spend $200 Million on New Icebreaker

The Navy is building an icebreaker at its own shipyard, a project that bolsters Chile's footprint in the Antartic region. The $200 million vessel won't have any weapons but an array of sensors for scientific research, such as an ocean-floor scanner, acoustic equipment and on-board laboratories. It will also have rescue capabilities, a helipad and a surgical room. The icebreaker, set to begin operations in 2022, will be able to carry up to 30 scientists and a total crew of 120. Of course, it will be able to navigate in ice up to a meter in thickness. Asmar, the shipyard operated by the Navy, is building the icebreaker. The ship will replace the aged Almirante Viel, an icebreaker launched in 1969 that was acquired from Canada in 1994. Although it's primarily a scientific vessel, the new icebreaker has strategic significance as well. The Antartic region has valuable resources, and nations with territorial claims are making sure they don't go unnoticed. Chile has a few bases in Antartica for scientific work, but also to enforce its sovereignty.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Adios, Haiti

The last of the Chilean troops serving with the United Nations left Haiti last week, ending Chile's longest and largest peacekeeping mission. The exit became official April 19, 13 years after Chile first took part in the multinational force that helped stabilize Haiti after the political upheaval of 2004. More than 12,000 Chilean troops and police served over the 13-year period. Detachments from Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico worked with the Chilean battalion starting in 2013. Chile was one of the last countries to leave Haiti, and the UN itself has decided to withdraw most troops: It will end its mission this October and leave a small contingent. The Caribbean nation, the UN says, is stable enough to function on its own. Chilean casualties were minimal during the deployment, which cost Santiago's treasury a total of $177 million. What did Chile gain from its deployment? It obtained expertise in pacification of civilian areas and training in conditions that could not be replicated in Chile. Rescue, relief, medical and other types of missions gave soldiers, marines and pilots valuable experience. The initial deployment marked the first time a light infantry battalion had been airlifted in 72 hours. It also helped integrate Chile's military with friendly nations, and gave the country a better standing on the world scene as an agent of peace. In a way, it was another step the armed forces have stepped away from the legacy of the 1973-1990 military government.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How to Defend Chile on the Ground

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

Chile's Virtual War with Bolivia

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

Army Upgrades Transport Units with More Than 400 New Trucks

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

Army Clears Way for Women to Become Generals

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

How to Defend Chile, an Overview

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

As Fires Burn, Chile Finds Itself Short on Firefighting Aircraft

A historic wave of forest fires has left much of Chile charred, a disaster that has underscored a lack of aircraft capable of fighting blazes. Fueled by years of drought, dozens of forest fires have broken out in the central and southern parts of the country. Teams from South America, France and other nations have rushed to the aid of Chilean crews overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the inferno. Some of those countries provided helicopters and airplanes with water-dropping equipment. Good thing, because apart from some helicopters dunking large buckets of water, the military has no aircraft with specialized equipment. Brazil's air force sent a pair of C-130 Hercules that are capable of spraying large areas of flames, and some planes like that would be valuable in Chile, where forest fires break out every year. As they do in any disaster, Chile's armed forces jumped into action with bulldozers, security forces and other resources. Many soldiers have been pressed into service as firefighters. Military helicopters and planes are being used to ferry firefighters and equipment. Now, they may get some firefighting equipment. A group of lawmakers is pushing to create a firefighting brigade within the military, and to acquire airplanes specially equipped to battle fires, according to a report posted in Noticias FFAA Chile. As long as the military is responding to disasters, it will need to make firefighting one of its areas of responsibility.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Patrol Vessel Program Expands Into Warship Role

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.