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, and 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.

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.