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.