Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Navy Adds Fourth Off-Shore Patrol Vessel

The Asmar shipyard delivered a new off-shore patrol vessel to Chile's Navy, the fourth in the series. OPV 84 Cabo Odger displaces 1,728 tons and measures 265 feet in length, with capabilities to stay on the ocean up to 30 days and travel a maximum of 8,000 nautical miles. The ship is armed with a 76 mm cannon and .50-caliber machine guns. OPV 84 will be based in Iquique, where the Navy faces a swarm of illegal fishing activity. Like others in the Fassmer-class OPVs, Cabo Odger has capabilities for search and rescue, environmental protection and a number of auxiliary roles. Each also has a hangar and deck for a medium-sized helicopter. The Navy plans to build six of the vessels. The program started with the 2007 launch of the first ship, OPV 81, in what originally was going to be a fleet of four boats. Construction of the next two OPVs has not been announced.

Monday, July 31, 2017

How to Defend Chile at Sea

C-295 Persuader
Chile has a long western flank, made up entirely of the Pacific Ocean. With every major city, major highway and industrial center within a few hours' drive from the beach, protecting that flank is one of Chile's most vital strategic goals. The Navy defends Chilean territorial waters through four naval districts. The main naval bases are in two ports: Talcahuano and Valparaiso. Most warships and the most valuable support vessels are stationed in those two bases, making tthose bases critical assets to protect. The backbone of the Navy is its eight frigates: four acquired second-hand from Britain and four others purchased from the Netherlands. Six are equipped for anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare, while two others (the ex-Dutch L class) are primarily air-defense ships equipped with SM-1 and Seasparrow anti-aircraft missiles. The most modern ships are three Type 23 vessels, and those are being upgraded with improved electronics and Sea Ceptor air-defense missiles. The Navy's submarine force consists of two Scorpene boats and two Type 209 subs, the latter of which are nearing the end of their service life. The subs provide Chile with a stealthy weapon, and the Pacific Ocean in that part of the world provides currents and other conditions that enhance the effectiveness of submarine warfare. Thus, the four subs are just as important as the frigates. In the air, Chile has never had much more than just an adequate force. It has several SH-32 Cougar helicopters with sub-detecting electronics and capabilities to launch Exocet anti-ship missiles. The fixed-wing force counts on three operational Orion P-3 planes, plus three C-295 Persuaders. These aircraft help Chile cover sizable gaps that the surface forces alone cannot cover. Some P-111 are still in use, but are mainly for search and rescue and reconnaissance missions. The bulk of naval aviation is stationed near Valparaiso, with airfields also in Punta Arenas, Iquique and Talcahuano. The Navy has considered drones to help patrol the ocean, but there's been no acquisition other than the Navy's own development of a UAV system.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How to Defend Chile in the Air

For the same reason that naval power is important to Chile -- i.e., the country's narrow geography doesn't allow for much flexibility in land mobility -- air power is just as valuable. The Air Force, or FACh, has the mission of maintaining air superiority so that land and naval forces can maneuver effectively. That role falls on the 10 F-16 Block 50 and 36 F-16 MLU fighter planes that provide Chile with the backbone of its air force. Compared with neighboring countries, the F-16 squadrons form a capable if not formidable weapon, especially when targeting pods, beyond-visual-range missiles and radar systems are factored into the equation. In a conflict, the F-16 fleet would provide adequate cover to operate air combat patrols wherever Chile conducts military operations. Pilot training is thought to be at least on par if not superior to Peruvian and Argentine pilots. (Bolivia has no credible air force.) Air bases could be vulnerable to enemy strike, especially if the Andes mountains obscure radar coverage. To protect its bases, FACh counts on the NASAMS medium-range air defense missile system. It also uses truck-mounted Mistral missiles, some 40mm anti-aircraft guns and Vulcan anti-air cannon for a layer of shorter-range air defense. The F-16s also would be tasked with ground attack missions, and for that role Chile also could count on A-29 Super Tucano, F-5 Tiger III and even the antiquated A-36 Halcon jets. The F-16s, though, have the better targeting systems and JDAM bombs. Transportation is a third leg of FACh's mission, and that's an area in which it has added some assets the past few years. It acquired at least two C-130 Hercules planes and three KC-135 tanker-transport planes from U.S. stockpiles. It also has a few converted Boeing jets and light Twin Otter planes. Those aircraft, however, would be stretched thin if Chile has to supply forces at either end of its long geography, and it would also have to hope that most runways stay operational.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Navy Starts Shopping For New Subs; Deal Could Be Largest Ever

The Navy took the first steps to acquire two submarines to replace its Type 209 subs, which are nearing the end of their service life. Plans are to select a winning bid by 2020 and have the new subs operational in 2025, Jane's reports. By then, the older of the two Type 209s in Chile's Navy will be retired. Both Type 209s are already more than 30 years old. The SS Thomson was launched in 1984 and the SS Simpson in 1982. A new electric-diesel submarine typically runs about $500 million, which means the contract for two new subs could top $1 billion. It would easily be the most expensive military acquisition in Chile's history. Submarines, though, are valuable naval assets because of their stealth. Chile's two other submarines, a pair of Scorpene boats, were acquired for less than $500 million, a bargain that Chile obtained because it was the launch customer for the Scorpene. There won't be such luck with the next pair of submarines, and a future president will be faced with Chile's first billion-dollar military decision. Also by 2025, the two L-class air defense frigates will be nearly 40 years old and due for replacement. Those won't be cheap, either.

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.