Some countries have an unfavourable territorial situation that does not help establish a line of defence and, instead, requires a comparably higher amount of resources and assets. The very same concept applies for peacetime activities, namely presence, security patrol, and sovereignty. This commentary looks at the Chilean Navy that falls under this category.
The control of Chile’s territorial waters and EEZ has been significantly improved by two 1,800 tons OPV of the “Piloto Pardo” class.
(Photo: Chilean Navy)
Chile’s Territory is Long
In naval warfare, the term ‘depth’ is usually associated with ASW; instead, in land warfare, the same expression indicates the choice of a military strategy trying to delay, rather than stop an attacker, or, in other words, the willingness to spread the deployment of its own forces over a larger territory or a longer time.
Chile has a very long coastline, spreading from tropical waters down to Antarctica. On land, this territory is just a ‘thin layer’ between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, mostly as thin as some 200km, or even less. In order to control the wide area of interest, called Mar Presencial, Chile developed a capable naval fleet, one of the most important and most proficient on the Latin American continent. The Mar Presencial is a unique concept, sometimes referred to as oceano-political (rather than geopolitical), much larger than the 200nm EEZ, where Chile does not claim sovereignty, yet declares an area of interest. Chile’s maritime territory cover some 17 million square kilometres, over 20 times its entire land surface.
Powerful Surface Assets Come of Age
The current Chilean fleet was created and commissioned following a three-stage approach. Submarines were procured abroad, exploiting new and effective designs: two Type 209/1400 boats in the mid-1980s, then greatly modernised in Chilean shipyards with a new SUBTICS combat system, EXOCET SM-39 anti-ship missiles, and new torpedoes; followed by two SCORPENE submarines.
All major surface combatants were procured second-hand. In this way, the Chilean Navy acquired some modern and capable vessels at a bargain price. The result is the deployment of a combat capability without comparison in the area. Under the revised TRIDENTE Plan, the fleet acquired and upgraded a total of eight modern frigates expected with a long lasting life: two “Almirante Blanco Encalada” class (ex-Dutch “M” class) frigates; two “Almirante Latorre” class (ex-Dutch “Jacob van Heemskerck” or “L” class) air defence frigates; one “Almirante Williams” class (ex-HMS “Sheffield” Type 22 Batch 2 type) frigate; and three “Almirante Cochrane” class (ex-UK Royal Navy Type 23) frigates. The latter were recommissioned, following a major overhaul, in the 2006-2008 timeframe. They are now to be fitted with the THALES 2087 Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS).
The two “Almirante Latorre” class air defence frigates were received in 2006. The 3,750 tons (full displacement) ships could be upgraded and armed with long-range SM-2 air defence missiles in due time. Her principal air defence weapon system is the SM-1MR effector. Accompanied are eight NATO SEA SPARROW air defence missiles and THALES Nederland’s GOALKEEPER 30mm CIWS. The single Type 22 Batch 2 frigate “Almirante Williams” (19), received in 2003, has been upgraded with the indigenously designed SISDEF SP21K CMS; her armament consists of eight HARPOON anti-ship missiles, one OTO Melara 76mm naval gun, and four Israeli BARAK vertical launch air defence missiles, replacing SEA WOLF missiles. The ship also received a new EW system and a hangar and flight deck for operating two COUGAR helicopters.
The Chilean Navy’s amphibious capability has been significantly enhanced following the receipt, in December 2011, of the landing ship LDHS “Sargento Aldea” (91), a former French Navy “Foudre” class LSD.
Chile is also expanding its national shipbuilding capability, mostly thanks to the experience principally gathered following the procurement of three “Piloto Pardo” class patrol vessels designed by Germany’s Fr. Fassmer. Selected for the Regional Patrol Vessel Initiative, the vessels were built within time and budget. After delivery of the first three units, an additional two are expected to be procured. These OPV are destined to perform in a wide range of missions, including Coast Guard duties; protection of fishing activities; search and rescue (SAR); salvage and pollution control; and support and training. Another class of six offshore patrol craft (“Contramaestre Micalvi” class) have been constructed by the Astilleros y Maestranzas de la Armada (ASMAR) in Talcahuano.
By Massimo Annati