Thursday, April 26, 2018

Fidae 2018: Hundreds of Companies, but Few Deals

The Fidae air show drew more than 400 exhibitors for its 20th edition this month, solidifying its role as the largest aviation trade show in Latin America. This year's aircraft display included the F-22 Raptor, F-35, A-400 and C-17 transports, KC-10 tanker and Airbus A350 jetliner. But while Fidae is Latin America's go-to event for defense and aerospace companies, there was little news announced. Only a few minor deals made headlines. One item was a program to extend the operational life of the Chilean Navy Pilatus PC-7 training planes. That's hardly a smashing headline, and the military press had to settle for crumbs. To be sure, major defense contractors save some of their biggest announcements for the top air shows in Paris, Dubai and Farnborough. The latter takes place in July. Military spending in Latin America is modest compared with other regions. But there's a burgeoning market for commercial aviation. Airbus Commercial Aircraft estimates a requirement for 2,700 planes over the next 20 years in Latin America.

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.