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Chile: Foreign Sources of Matériel
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Foreign Sources of Matériel

FOREIGN SOURCES OF MATéRIEL


Traditional Chilean military procurement policies have faithfully mirrored the influences at work on the individual armed forces. Thus, the army has showed a distinct preference for weapons of German design, if not necessarily German manufacture. For example, the German-designed French Hotchkiss machine gun was standard in the 1930s. For similar reasons, the navy largely confined its patronage for new construction to British yards. The FACh, again mirroring its formative influences, was initially equipped largely with British matériel. However, large quantities of United States-built aircraft, together with the products of the renascent German aircraft industry, began to appear in the mid1930s .

During World War II, large amounts of United States matériel began to reach the army and FACh, but not the navy, as military aid. All three of the armed forces continued to receive increased quantities of United States equipment after the Rio Treaty of 1947. For almost two decades, United States war surplus dominated the inventories of the Chilean Armed Forces, as it did generally throughout the region. Between 1950 and 1977, the value of United States military assistance totaled US$97.4 million. Quantities of progressively obsolescent matériel of pre-World War II manufacture and non-United States origins were still noted in service in the early 1970s.

In the 1960s, as elsewhere in Latin America, when the United States declined to supply modern matériel because of restrictions on exports of high technology, other markets were explored. The army acquired the Swiss SG-510 rifle, which became standard, and quantities of French and Swiss armored fighting vehicles, together with Italian artillery pieces. The navy and FACh continued to favor British equipment.

With the widespread boycott of the military regime following the 1973 overthrow of Salvador Allende, Chile found many traditional sources of equipment closed. United States arms exports to Chile were formally terminated in 1976 after the adoption of the Kennedy Amendment in 1974. Procurement was pursued on an ad hoc basis, and matériel was acquired from wherever available. This inevitably resulted in an increasingly heterogeneous and unbalanced equipment inventory. During this period, the navy and FACh encountered particular difficulties in the acquisition of replacements and spares. Much ingenuity was applied to prolonging the life of otherwise obsolete or worn-out matériel, and local industrial potential was expanded dramatically.

Chile managed to acquire United States arms and technology through third parties even while the United States prohibition of arms sales was in effect. In addition to spurring the Chileans to develop their own arms industry, the embargo prompted Chile to develop closer ties with arms-producing countries such as Brazil, France, Germany, Britain, and Israel. With the return of democracy in 1990, the Aylwin government assured the United States that it would continued to prosecute those responsible for the assassination of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier, an opponent of the military government, and his assistant, United States citizen Ronnie Moffit, in Washington in 1976. As a result of these assurances the embargo was lifted, and United States arms sales to Chile resumed.

The return to civilian government in 1990 resolved most of the procurement problems experienced during the period of military rule (1973-90). Nevertheless, future procurements probably will continue to be broadly based. The army's main priorities are to standardize its equipment inventory and replace obsolescent weapons that are incapable of further upgrading, specifically its battle tanks and some of its artillery equipment. Missile air defense used to be the exclusive responsibility of the FACh, with its Blowpipe and Mistral and its new French Mygale vehicle-mounted antiaircraft system. However, in 1993 the army launched its own international competition program for the acquisition of a new surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. According to Military Technology [Bonn], the army was interested in two types of vehicle-mounted systems -- existing SAM systems or procurement only of missile launchers and munitions. The latter option would entail mounting the new systems on Chilean-made Piranha 6x6 or 8x8 armored personnel carriers (APCs). The new missile system will be integrated with the army's newly adopted, Chilean-developed Lince C2 air defense system. In May 1992, the FACh, for its part, tested its new French Mygale antiaircraft system, which has a computerized radar that seeks the target and is linked to four vehicles that carry Mistral ground-to-air missile launchers to protect air bases against supersonic aircraft attacks. Chile is the first and reportedly the only country in the region to own this system.

The navy requires at least one more Leander-class frigate, at least two more modern Oberon-class submarines, and an additional replenishment tanker. The retirement of the cruiser O'Higgins also left the fleet without a major command vessel. Various possibilities, including the acquisition of the British destroyer leader Bristol, were being considered. The Bristol attempt failed, however, when the British Royal Navy demanded that its Sea Dart system be removed prior to sale. The navy also hoped to establish a combat air unit equipped with Sea Harriers, although this objective was unlikely to be achieved in the foreseeable future.

The FACh requires some additional heavy-lift transport aircraft and replacements for its diminishing number of aging Hunter fighter-bombers. Possible replacements included the British Hawk 200, the United States F-16, and even the former Soviet Union's MiG-29. The FACh commander in chief stated publicly in 1992 that no immediate Hunter replacement was contemplated and that future procurements would focus on the acquisition of smaller numbers of higher-performance combat aircraft. For example, the FACh purchased ten A-37 light attack aircraft that year through an agreement with the United States.

Between sixteen and twenty Chilean Northrop F-5E Tiger III fighter aircraft were upgraded with Israeli technology by the state-owned Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) in Tel Aviv in 1988- 93. Chile had purchased these aircraft from the United States in 1976, but they were held for many years under the regulations of a 1976 addendum to the Kennedy Amendment. The jets' avionics were greatly improved, and their electronic and navigation equipment were fully replaced by IAI. The Israeli company was also upgrading Mirage 50 aircraft purchased by Chile from France many years earlier to the Mirage 500C/Pantera standard, a configuration resembling the IAI's Kfir. In addition, the Israelis in 1993 were converting a FACh Boeing 707 to carry the Phalcon airborne early warning system developed by an Israeli electronics company.

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 Factba.se.

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