Several Countries including the Salvadorian National Civilian Police and the Argentina Halcones have adopted the SAF. Photo: J. Montes
By Julio A. Montes
The 10th biannual International Air & Space Fair (FIDAE)—held at the Chilean Air Base of Los Cerrillos-gave us the excuse to visit this beautiful South American nation. Los Cerrillos Air Base is an operational installation of the Chilean Air Force (FACh) housing the Air Academy and the Aeronautical Museum. The fair presented us with an opportunity to inspect the growing military industrial base being developed in that South American nation. It was also an opportunity to visit old friends and to inspect the small arms of the Chilean military. For those of us coming in to Chile with Australian, Canadian or US passports there is a “reciprocating tax” of $45! Nevertheless, I soon found the Chilean hospitality extremely warm-that is, after my initial $45 shock.
The Chilean military rates as the best in Latin American, and it possesses one of the most prosperous military industries in the continent. Fabricas Militares y Maestranza del Ejercito (FAMAE) has expanded its manufacturing capabilities from small arms to armored vehicles. The Empresa Nacional Aeronautica (ENAER) manufactures trainers and has assisted in the upgrade of the FACh combat fleet. The Astilleros Maritimos (ASMAR) is now engaged in the implementation of the TRIDENT program, consisting in the building between 6 to 8 MEKO-200 class frigates for the Chilean Navy. However, during our last trip (FIDAE 2002), it was announced that the TRIDENT program has been shelved for the moment.
THE CHILEAN MILITARY
The military faces great challenges. The territory extends from the freezing areas of the South Pole to the arid deserts in the North. Specialized units are required to fight in the steep and rocky ground of the Andes, and elite strategic Special Forces must prepare to fight in any terrain. There is a 4000-mile Pacific coast; therefore, the Chilean Marine Corps must be ready to land and to fight anywhere and in anyway possible. The country has an overall length of about 2,600 miles-with areas with only a width of 100 miles—and the country is divided in XII Regions. There are five distinct geographic regions: the hot desert, south from the Peruvian border to Copiapo; the semi-desert region, from Copiapo to Illapel; the fertile region between Illapel and Concepcion; the heavily-wooded region between Concepcion and Puerto Montt; and the cold southern region, extending southwards to Cape Horn.
The Army deploys its units according to a 12 Regional Division of the country. There is one Army Corps (1 Division + 1 SpecOps Bde.), and 6 Divisions deployed as follow:
The I ARMY CORPS, based at Tarapacia, Iquique, has responsibility over Region I. Its garrisons are distributed at Arica, Putre, Iquique, and Pozo Almonte. I Army Corps controls 6th Logistic Battalion (Pisagua), and the elite 5th Brigade “Curampangue,” based at Baquedano. 5th Brigade was recently established by combining the 5th Infantry Regiment, 6th Commando Regiment, and 13th Brigade. A more recent reorganization has left 5th Bde. with the “Coronel Jeronimo Valenzuela” 25th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, the “Pampa Germania” Armored Cavalry Group, and the 1st Commando Company. The I ARMY CORPS has also control over the VI Division.
I DIVISION is based at Antofagasta, and is responsible for II & III Regions. This division deploys 7th Infantry Regiment (at Esmeralda), 15th Inf. Reg. (at Calama), and 23rd Inf. Reg. (at Copiapo). Support comes from 5th Artillery Regiment (at Antofagasta), 8th Exploradores Armored Cavalry Regiment (at Antofagasta), 1st Engineer Battalion (at Atacama), 1st Telecommunications Battalion (El Loa), and the 1st Logistic Battalion (at Tacopilla).
II DIVISION, housed at Santiago, is responsible for IV, V, VI and the Metropolitan (Capital) Regions. This division fields the 1st Infantry Regiment (at Buin), 2nd Inf. Reg. (at Maipo), 3rd Inf. Reg. (at Yungay), 18th Inf. Reg. (Guardia Vieja), 19th Inf. Reg. (at Colchagua), 21st Inf. Reg. (at Arica), and 22nd Inf. Reg. (at Lantara). Support is provided by 1st Artillery Regiment (at Tacna), 10th Libertadores Armored Cavalry Regiment (at Santiago), and 1st (at Puente Alto) and 7th (at Aconcagua) Engineer Battalions.
III DIVISION from Concepcion, is responsible for VII & VIII Regions. This division counts 6th Infantry Regiment (at Chacabuco), 9th Inf. Reg. (at Chillan), 16th Inf. Reg. (at Talca), and 17th Inf. Reg. (at Los Angeles). Support arms is provided by 7th Artillery Regiment (at Silva Renard), 7th Guia Armored Cavalry Regiment (at Concepcion), 3rd Telecommunications Battalion (at Curico), and the 3rd Logistic Battalion (at Concepcion).
IV DIVISION is based at Valdivia, and is responsible for IX & X Regions. This division deploys the 8th Infantry Regiment (at Tucapel), and the 12th Inf. Reg. (at Sangra). The 2nd Arty. Regiment (at Matura) provides artillery support; armored support comes from Armored Cavalry Regiments 2nd Cazadores, 3rd Cazadores and 4th Coraceros (all at Valdivia). Other support comes from the 4th Engineer Battalion (at Aranco), 4th Telecommunications Battalion (at Membrillar), and the 4th Logistic Battalion (at Valdivia).
V DIVISION is based at Punta Arenas, and is responsible for XII Region. This division deploys the 10th Infantry Regiment (at Pudeto), and the 11th Inf. Reg. (at Caupolican). Support comes from 7th Artillery Regiment (at Chorrillos), 5th Lanceros and 6th Dragones Armored Cavalry Regiments (both at Punta Arenas), 5th Engineer Battalion (at Punta Arenas), 5th Telecommunications Battalion (at Patagonia), and the 5th Logistic Battalion (at Magallanes).
VI DIVISION is based at Arica, and it is in fact part of I Army Corps, with responsibilities over Arica and Parinacota. This division comprises 4th Infantry Regiment (at Rancagua), and the 24th Inf. Reg. (at Huamachuco). Support comes from 6th Artillery Regiment (at Dolores), 9th Vencedores Armored Cavalry Regiment (at Arica), 6th Engineer Battalion (at Azapa), and Battalion-Workshop (Batallon-Maestranza de Mantenimiento at Arica).
VII DIVISION is based at Coyhaique, and is responsible for XI Region. This division deploys the 14th Infantry Regiment (at Aysen), and 26th Inf. Reg. (at Bulnes). Support comes from 8th Artillery Regiment (at San Carlos de Ancud), 8th Engineer Battalion (at Chiloe), and 8th Telecommunications Battalion (at Coyhaique). Each Infantry Regiment counts with two riflemen battalions.
During our visit, I spent considerable time checking Ceska Zbrojovka and the line of CZ pistols and rifles on display during my trip. I was so impressed with the examples presented that I added a CZ-75 Compact to my full-size CZ-5B upon my return to the United States. The CZ-75-along the Beretta M9—is the standard side arm issued to officers and other personnel. The Czech pistols are considerably lower in price to other pistols of similar quality. Having said this, we add that the CZ-75 slide and frame are made of precision casting. The pistol is carefully machined and extremely well finished. The CZ-75 is recoil-operated using the Browning dropping barrel system. It takes a high-capacity 15-round magazine. The Compact model takes 10 and 13 round magazines. The military also uses Rossi & Taurus revolvers.
The locally-made FAMAE SAF 9mm submachine gun is now standard for the armed forces. It has also been exported to several countries, including the Salvadorian National Civilian Police and the elite Halcones of Argentina. The SAF fires from a closed bolt and is similar in many respects to the SIG-540 rifle. It uses the same SIG floating firing pin and hammer firing mechanism, but it operates with a blowback system and an unlocked bolt. The weapon uses a transparent magazine that allows quickly checking for ammunition status, and each magazine is provided with studs and slots to clamp other magazines for quick reloads. The SAF has been produced in three variants: standard (fixed stock), standard with side folding butt, and silenced. All the models weight a little more than 6 lbs. The Mini-SAF is also available, and it is equipped with a forward grip for better handling.
Prior to the SAF, the standard SMG was-and still widely distributed—the 9mm UZI, made in Israel. The UZI is well known and it is based on the Czech 23 series. The Chileans use the three UZI series: standard model, Mini-UZI, and Micro-UZI.
For a time, the Ingram MAC 11 in 9mm was the trademark of the Chilean Special Forces. The ever present MP5 is also a favorite, particularly for SpecOps units. The British SAS made the MP5 SMG famous. The British Special Forces came across the MP5 during the German GSG-9 action in Mogadishu in 1977. The MP5 remains one of the finest submachine guns ever designed.
Along with the UZI, the Chileans purchased quantities of the compact Taurus MP-12 SMGs. These are Beretta Model 12 SMGs, and are still used in numbers.
The Chileans have a long history of small arms production. Chile actually built and supplied most of the 7mm Mausers M1904 encountered in Central America in the early 1900s. The M1904 is still in service with honor guards and presentation units.
Most of the infantry has been equipped with FN-FALs, G-3s or SIG SG-510 rifles. The SG510 is basically the Swiss Sturmgewehr Stgw57 rifle in 7.62mm. This uses a delayed blowback system and weighs some 12 lbs. Units operating along the desert prefer the SG510-1 (Stgw57) model.
Many units are now equipped with the locally-produced FAMAE 5.56mm SG-540-1. This rifle is based on the SG-530 model, but it makes use of stampings and castings to make it cheaper and easier to produce. The SG-5440-1 uses a breech mechanism, with the bolt carrier and rotating bolt system. The rifle weighs 6.3 lbs. Its bigger brother, the FAMAE SG-542-1, is a larger scale SG540 firing the 7.62mm round, and weighting 7.13 lbs. Officers prefer the SG-543-1, which is the short carbine with folding stock of the SG-540.
The Chilean Marines use either the US M16 or the German HK-33, both in 5.56mm. The HK-33E with retractable stock, and smaller HK-53KE carbine are the Marine’s favorites. The rifle operates in the usual roller-locked delayed blowback system of Heckler & Koch rifles.
Off course, elite forces use anything available in the arsenal. For a time, these forces made great use of AKM rifles. SpecOps have access to M16A1 and M16A2 models. Special operators were happy to show us their Galils, both in 5.56mm and 7.62mm. The 7.62mm Galil Sniper-like any Galil-resembles the Kalashnikov. It has a weight of 14.1 lbs, and a range of 600 mts. It carries a standard 6×40 telescope sight.
Snipers from regular platoons grab either the 5.56mm HK-33 SG/1 or the 7.62mm G-3 SG/1 precision rifles; these are selected rifles taken from the production line equipped with a special adjustable trigger set. What they prefer is the 7.62mm PSG-1 model. This operates with the same roller-locked delayed blowback system found in the G3 rifle, but the PSG-1 is made to closer tolerances. It sports an adjustable trigger pull, and a heavy barrel, which tilt the weight to some 18 lbs.
For long range precision work, the Chilean SpecOps also relied on the Barrett 12.7mm M82A1rifles. Other weapons that are making their way to the Chileans hands include the SPAS-15 combat shotguns. They are excellent clearing and close quarter weapons. The impressive looking Franchi SPAS is a semi-automatic or pump action mode selectable combat shotgun. Can be operated with one hand by using a special elbow hook of a folding stock. It has a 7 round magazine, and weighs 9.4 lbs.
The Striker MGL-6 grenade launcher was designed by South African ARMSCOR, but it is produced and distributed under license in Israel and the United States. The weapon uses a revolver principle, providing fast firing of 40mm low velocity grenades. Mexico, Colombia, and Chile-between others—have adopted the MGL-6. The weapon has an 18 to 20 rounds per minute rate of fire, and there are 6 rounds ready to fire. It is equipped with “Occluded Eye Gunsight”, and a folding stock.
Although some 7.62mm M60 machine guns have been observed, the Army makes a great deal of use of the 7.62mm HK-21 and MG-3 machine guns. The HK-21 is adapted to feed from an ammunition belt instead of a box magazine. The weapon can be converted to 5.56mm. However, at 14.9 lbs, the 7.62mm HK-21 is a handy light machine gun, ideal for squad and platoon level support.
At 25 lbs, the 7.62mm MG-3 is considerably heavier, and better suited for mounting in tripods and on vehicles. The MG-3 is no other than the German WWII MG-42 converted to 7.62mm NATO caliber, with some other modernizations.
The Air Force and the Marines make use of the FN MAG-58 models. For heavier work, the services depend on the 12.7mm M2HB. FAMAE and ENAER have developed several machine gun pods for mounting in the MD-530F and UH-1H helicopters. The Army operates 32 MD-530s.
For antitank tasks, the Chilean infantry depends on the well-tried and obsolete LAW-66mm. It also counts on the German ARMBRUST 300. This is an 80mm caliber weapon designated to penetrate 300mm armored plate. It has a range of 300 mts., and consists of a preloaded, one shot disposable rocket.
The largest antitank weapon available to the infantry is the 106mm M40A1, modernized with a laser rangefinder and NVS-800 night vision sight. The weapon is normally mounted on a vehicle, either a Land Rover or M240 Storm type. The driver of the vehicle is equipped with an NVG-50. The M40A1 can be utilized as an all weather antitank weapon.
The Heckler & Koch system in particular could have presented great benefits to the Chilean military. It has an array of weapons—from 9mm sub machineguns to 7.62mm machine guns-that allow for easy logistics and training. However, the Chilean military is compromised to the production and distribution of FAMAE products. Fortunately, the excellent SIG line of small arms has been selected for production and for the modernization of the armed services. It is hoped that the FAMAE SAF will eventually replace all the sub guns, and the FAMAE SG540 series will replace the HK33/G3, SG510, M16 and FN FAL rifles. It is a matter of time before FAMAE completes the small arms line with a 5.56mm light squad automatic machinegun and a 7.62mm General-Purpose model.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V6N1 (October 2002)|