Friday, 14 September 2012

Chile in talks to buy Dutch Cougar copters

Chile is in talks with the Netherlands to purchase eight Cougar helicopters that are likely to be reconditioned and upgraded to form part of an air cavalry brigade.

The Latin American country has been seeking to modernize its armed forces and its military arsenal but is hamstrung by funding constraints and, in some cases, political barriers to what the forces' commanders want to buy.

The Cougars are part of a Dutch armed forces armada that is targeted for a drawdown. Officials in the Netherlands have said the military's need for cash is behind the decision to run down the current inventory, which they see as excessive to need in peace time.

The Cougar is the Eurocopter's AS532 version, a twin-engine, medium-weight, multipurpose aircraft developed by France and built by Eurocopter and Turkish Aerospace Industries.

The AS532 is an upgrade of the Aerospatiale Puma in its militarized form and has been superseded by the Eurocopter EC725.

The secondhand helicopters meet an immediate challenge for Chile, which is aiming to upgrade its armed forces' equipment as economically and fast as possible.

The Cougars' availability appeared as the Dutch announced a controversial decision to sell some military equipment. The move was hotly contested in the Netherlands.

Chile's medium-term plan is to create an air cavalry brigade to meet challenges to national security posed by drug overlords and their collaborators in underground movements.

The eight helicopters will join a fleet up to 30 helicopters that will form part of a planned air cavalry brigade. Current plans call for a carefully chosen force of up to 1,200 elite officers and troops, El Periodista news website said.

The special brigade will likely be deployed both in tactical transport and in attack missions.

Discussion on the military procurement program for the cavalry brigade has wavered between securing the most cost-effective solution and building a seamless operation with compatible hardware.

Some military commanders backed the idea of having all helicopters from the same manufacturer but cost considerations kept getting in the way.

Chilean army commander Gen. Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba said he favored a standardized helicopter force from a single manufacturer but that doesn't seem to be happening.

Support is also growing for a better-equipped Chilean army with its own air support backup.

El Periodista said the army wants to enhance its fixed-wing capabilities and is seriously considering three to five Spartan C27J twin-engine light transport aircraft for its inventory. The aircraft costs about $53 million and is manufactured by Alenia Aeronautica of Italy.

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