Chile’s ExpoNaval 2012 Focuses on Innovation, Humanitarian Action
By Dialogo December 07, 2012
VALPARAISO, Chile — ExpoNaval 2012, a gathering of Latin American navies, defense suppliers and government officials, took place Dec. 4-7 in the Chilean port of Valparaiso with a focus on innovation and peacetime humanitarian assistance.
The three-day event, now in its eighth year, was held at Muelle Barón, which is part of the Valparaiso passenger terminal on Chile’s Pacific coast. It attracted sales representatives from more than 160 private firms and naval delegations from 32 countries throughout the Americas and beyond.
Defense Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter attended ExpoNaval 2012’s inauguration along with the commander-in-chief of the Chilean Navy, Adm. Edmundo González, who emphasized the military’s experience in responding to natural disasters ranging from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to Chile’s disastrous earthquake and tsunami in 2010.
“As an institution, we believe that on the global level, maritime protection and humanitarian assistance when facing catastrophes is vital for nations’ economic prosperity,” González told delegates, who traveled from as far away as Mozambique and Papua New Guinea to attend the event.
ONRG plays key funding role
Chile’s naval leaders are constantly on the lookout for the newest technology, said Jorge Suárez, operations manager for Inytec. That company is the local representative of U.S. electronic supplier Flir Systems, based in Wilsonville, Oregon.
“The opportunity in the market is to demonstrate technology already deployed globally and adapt it to the reality here in Chile,” Suárez told Diálogo.
U.S. firms hope to replace installed technology with new solutions, he said, though a close working relationship between the Pentagon and Chile’s Ministry of Defense has opened doors that go past a supplier-client relationship and now include funding of research and development into new military solutions.
A case in point is the Arlington, Virginia-based Office of Naval Research Global (ONRG), whose only Latin American branch is in Santiago.
“Overall the development of South America’s navies has been robust and professional, and I think we have a great mutual respect,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Gerry Tighe. “This office in particular is working with humanitarian assistance, which Chile has led the way both in Haiti and in their own earthquake.”
Innovations from drones to retinas
Tighe said private companies in Chile have received ONRG funding and support to research new applications in autonomous vehicles, military science, information technology and energy. This, he said, gives local defense contractors a chance to bring new solutions and tools to the global market.
For example, Santiago-based Innervycs has two development projects in the works backed by funding from the U.S. Army and ONRG. The first aims to replicate the human retina and establish what people have trouble seeing.
“This allows us to assess and create new forms of camouflage,” said Innervycs CEO Ian Hughes. “A lot of optical illusions occur because of how we create images. We figure out what these key aspects of vision are, and how to implement them into a system that actively creates camouflage.”
Innervycs is also developing a program for speech-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. “We are bridging the gap between natural voice recognition and controlling UAVs, so you can talk to the UAV as you would a soldier next to you,” Hughes said.
Chile has lately received attention for military innovations. On Nov. 23, the Chilean Army unveiled a UAV prototype dubbed “Lascar.” This aircraft, built in conjunction with the University of Concepción and a private company, can monitor water sources, volcanic eruptions, natural disasters, rescue operations, fires and fishing expeditions.
Chile’s geography presents unique challenges
Hughes said Chile’s extreme geographic diversity — from dense rainswept forests in the south to the world’s driest desert in the north — offer opportunities, but with a few reservations. Most research takes place within Chile’s military centers using imported solutions.
“[Chile’s military] needs something that has been proven to work and field-tested,” he said. That’s why he said programs like ONRG are critical — not just for their financing role, but also for establishing relationships with the U.S. defense establishment and ultimately, the global market.
Meeting the specific needs of regional naval forces, despite a vendor’s loftier sales targets, is also crucial when working with Latin American forces, said Mark Armstrong, global/military sales manager for Florida-based Quantum Marine Engineering, a maker of hydraulic systems.
Quantum is new to the Chilean market, and looks to support legacy systems installed in Chilean naval vessels with new technology and access to hard-to-find parts, but without a full migration to an all-new stabilization system.
“What we are saying is we can upgrade these vessels to have more sophisticated software and better controls, but you can keep your old system in place, saving them money in the end,” Armstrong said.