Chilean Submarine Force Turns 100

Chilean Submarine Force Turns 100

By Carolina Contreras/Diálogo
August 02, 2017

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet led the official ceremony on July 4th, commemorating the centenary of the Chilean Navy’s Submarine Force. On that date, 100 years ago, the Chilean flag was raised for the first time over six H-class submarines in Boston, Massachusetts, birthing the submarine service within the Chilean Navy. “Our Navy went from that foundational moment to today’s modern, highly professional, and technologically advanced fleet,” said President Bachelet during the official ceremony, held at the Submarine Force’s facilities in Talcahuano. “With each new acquisition of resources or each submarine overhaul, we have continued evolving,” said Chilean Navy Rear Admiral Hernán Miller, the commander in chief of the Submarine Force. As it turns 100, the force has four units: two 209-class submarines, the Thompson (SS-20) and the Simpson (SS-21); and two Scorpène-class subs, the Carrera (SS-22) and the O’Higgins (SS-23). “These submersibles are considered the most modern in South America and are recognized for their stealth, high capacity for detection, and great defensive power. Added to that is the submarine base; a training center with a force of approximately 480 personnel.” The celebrations were attended by 12 delegations from foreign navies invited as guests: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, France, India, Italy, Malaysia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The attendees also participated in the symposium “Challenges for Undersea Operations in the 21st Century” in Concepción, Chile. The goal was to seek a knowledge exchange on the operations and operating capacities the navies present. “It was high-level,” Rear Adm. Miller said. “We have to think about the future, about replenishing our units [submersibles] to increase our capacities.” Exercise Teamwork South 2017 “A force that is able to meet the challenges,” is what President Bachelet proposed as one of the goals that the Submarine Force is pursuing through its systematic training. Thus, since 1984, the Chilean Navy has been participating in various exercises, such as Teamwork North in the United States, Marcot in Canada, RIMPAC in the South Pacific, and, since 2007, as the third fleet in the Diesel Electric Submarine Initiative in the United States. “We are well-established in these exercises, which are growing and taking on a degree of complexity,” Rear Adm. Miller said. “That’s why, since 2008, the RIMPAC exercise has included rescue and salvage training, called ‘CHILEMAR,’ for wrecked submarines. These consist of the [underwater] docking of rescue vehicles when the depth is over 150 meters, with personnel transfer, and also with a process of searching for wrecked submarines.” To coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Submarine Force, the Chilean Navy hosted Teamwork South (TWS), held June 30th to July 12th, with the participation of Chilean and U.S. military personnel deployed in a range of naval exercises along the coast, from the city of Talcahuano to the region of Coquimbo. TWS was led by Rear Admiral Ignacio Mardones, the commander in chief of the Chilean Naval Squadron, which had submarines and four oil tankers participating. Aircraft were also employed in the training. U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Sean Buck, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet, led the U.S. forces. These forces were joined by the destroyer USS Chafee (DDG 90), two MH-60R helicopters, a submarine, two P-8A Orion planes, and personnel from U.S. 4th Fleet, Destroyer Squadron 40, and Combined Task Force 46. The exercise sought to increase training and interoperability with other units and other navies. It was a maritime event that included pre-established scenarios focused on how to respond to events through the use of naval forces in cooperative maritime security operations. Its objective was to maintain accessibility, increase interoperability, and improve permanent alliances for increasing regional security, and promoting peace and stability in South America. “In the United States deployment demands the highest quality, not only in material but also in our crews and our training,” Rear Adm. Miller said. This exercise also served as training for the Chilean Navy’s participation as commander of the naval component in next year’s “RIMPAC 2018” to be held near Hawaii. New resources One of the upcoming challenges for the Submarine Force has to do with two 209-class submersibles acquired in the 1980s that will need to be replaced, as they are nearing the end of their life cycle. The Chilean Ministry of Defense has given the green light to conduct studies to begin the selection process for a new class of oceanic diesel-powered submarines that will replace the Thompson (SS-20) and Simpson (SS-21) models, according to an official press release. The press release also stated that in 2016, the Project Evaluation Division of the Undersecretariat of Defense took notice of the need to study the project specifications and cost estimates for these units so that it could issue an international call to tender bids. It is anticipated that the Chilean Navy could have new replacements by 2024. The new submarines will be a demonstration of the Chilean Navy’s interest in having next-generation vessels that meet today’s new requirements and are outfitted with technology which enables them to keep strengthening the nation’s naval power, contributing to the preservation of its sovereignty and maritime interests.
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