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Chile: Navy
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Mission and Organization of the Armed Forces > Navy


Chile's long coast contributed to the development of a distinguished maritime tradition. The Chilean Navy accordingly has enjoyed an unusual primacy among the nation's armed forces, despite the army's formal status as the senior service. From its earliest days, the navy has operated under strong British influence.

The navy, with a strength of 25,000 -- including conscripts and the Navy Infantry Crops (Marines), Naval Aviation, and Coast Guard) -- divides the long Chilean coastline into four naval zones, headquartered in Iquique, Punta Arenas, Talcahuano, and Valparaíso all in Viña del Mar.

The Second Naval Zone (Talcahuano) corresponds approximately to the coastal portions of AM 3 and AM 4 and contains the main naval base, the Submarine School (Escuela de Submarinos), the Seamen's School (Escuela de Hombres de Mar), and the Naval Artisans' School (Escuela de Artesanos Navales), all at Talcahuano. It also includes the Chiloé Naval District (Puerto Montt). The Third Naval Zone (Punta Arenas) corresponds to the coastal portion of AM 5 and includes the Beagle Channel Naval District, which is headquartered at Puerto Williams. In the early 1990s, a new naval dockyard was under construction at Bahía Catalina. The Fourth Naval Zone (Iquique) corresponds to the former Northern Naval District, which until 1991 formed part of the First Naval Zone and covered an area corresponding to the coastal portion of AM 6.

The major operational command is the fleet, which includes four missile destroyers, two of which had been converted to helicopter carriers. The Submarine Command (La Fuerza de Submarinos) forms a separate operational command, with four submarines, a depot ship, and a subordinate group of frogmen commandos. The Transport Force (La Fuerza de Transportes) also forms an operational command. In addition, some minor patrol vessels, auxiliaries, and service craft are distributed among the naval zones and districts.

The 3,000 marines of the Navy Infantry Corps are organized into four detachments, based in Iquique, Viña del Mar, Talcahuano, and Punta Arenas. Each detachment consists of a reinforced infantry battalion, a commando company, a field battery, an antiaircraft battery, and logistic support units. In addition, there are some small embarked detachments, an amphibious assault battalion, and a logistics battalion, the latter two based in Valparaíso. Equipment is largely the same as that used by army infantry units. Most of the Marines' thirty LVTP-5 (landing vehicle, tracked, personnel) amphibious-landing vehicles are out of service, and their Cactus SAM systems have been disposed of. Amphibious-assault capability is confined largely to semirigid, inflatable craft.

Naval Aviation, with 750 personnel and a total of forty-five aircraft and forty-two armed helicopters, is organized into four squadrons: the General Purpose Squadron VG-1, the Helicopter Squadron VH-1, the Maritime Reconnaissance Squadron VP-1, and the Training Squadron VT-1. Naval Aviation began a modernization process in 1990 with the acquisition of new French and German helicopters and United States patrol aircraft. The principal naval air base is at Torquemada, twenty kilometers north of Viña del Mar. The Torguemada Aeronaval Base has an efficient airport of 1,750 meters and is supported by the Naval Aviation Repair Center (Centro de Reparaciones de la Aviación Naval -- CRAN). There are minor bases at Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams.

The Coast Guard, a component of the General Directorate of the Maritime Territory and Merchant Marine (Dirección General del Territorio Marítimo y de la Marina Mercante), is an integral part of the navy and has 1,500 personnel. The Chilean coastline is segmented into thirteen maritime administrations (gobernaciones marítimas), comprising a total of forty-six port captaincies (capitanías de puerto). The seagoing elements of the service consist of two converted fishing vessels (employed primarily as buoy tenders), four coastal patrol craft, and ten high-speed cutters. There are also eleven inshore patrol craft, in addition to numerous small surface skimmers and Zodiac craft used for inshore patrol and rescue. The service also operates a floating medicaldental clinic, mainly in the coastal waters off the Isla de Chiloé, and an air-sea rescue launch, based at Easter Island.

Chile assumes responsibility for maritime search and rescue in an area extending approximately 4,000 kilometers west of its coastline. It maintains search-and-rescue coordination centers at Iquique, Valparaíso, Talcahuano, Puerto Montt, and Punta Arenas. As none of its vessels is suitable for deep-sea patrol or rescue work, the Coast Guard may call on the ships and aircraft of the navy proper, in particular its helicopters, for support when necessary. The various port captains also maintain and staff lifeboats for inshore rescue.

Data as of March 1994

Last Updated: March 1994

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Chile was first published in 1994. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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