More than 10,000 kilometers separate Chile and the Central African Republic, a huge distance that will soon be covered in just seconds thanks to a modern satellite communications platform. The Chilean Army Telecommunications Command recently received a new Mobile Emergency Response Center (MERC), donated by the U.S. government through the Global Peace Operations Initiative of the State Department and U.S. Southern Command.
“It is interesting technological equipment that will give us tremendous operational communications capacities,” said Colonel Gonzalo Cañas, chief of Communications of the Chilean Army Telecommunications Command.
The donation was made within the framework of the two countries’ joint peace operations participation, in particular the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA, per its French acronym), in effect since the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2149 in 2014. The resolution addresses the country’s serious humanitarian and security crisis.
This donation “to the Chilean Armed Forces is in recognition of their support for other countries around the world,” said U.S. Ambassador to Chile, Carol Z. Pérez, on December 2nd, during the official donation ceremony held at the Army Telecommunications Command facilities.
MERC is a telecommunications center valued at $900,000 and designed in accordance with mission-critical standards to operate in areas without any communication infrastructure. It is composed of three mobile units. Each unit includes radio systems, IP telephones, satellite telephones, and laptop computers. This allows linking of different communication platforms both within the work area and the rest of the world.
“The idea is that the Chilean Armed Forces will have the technology to communicate on land,” said U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Rodríguez, bilateral affairs officer for the Security Cooperation Office in Santiago.
Chile joined MINUSCA in February 2016, with the participation of officers representing all three branches of the Armed Forces. On January 19th, the Chilean Parliament approved the country’s participation in these peacekeeping operations for another year as part of the mission in the Central African Republic. The Army plans to incorporate MERC center into this work by 2018.
“With this support for the communications capacities of the Army, we will be more efficient in our assigned peacekeeping tasks,” said Col. Cañas.
Capacities and training
Personnel from the United States manufacturer trained troops from the Army Telecommunications Command to use the new technology. Chilean technicians were able to deploy, operate, and configure the equipment without any issues.
Each mobile unit can be deployed and installed in only 30 minutes. The unit is delivered to a command post in an area with existing integrated communications equipment. Each unit consists of a base, an electric generator for the mobile center, a parabolic satellite antenna, and the equipment needed for the center’s launch and maintenance.
The MERCs use encrypted communications, state-of-the-art technology that is difficult to be intercepted. They also use an interoperability system known as Mutualink, which can use UHF, VHF, analog, and digital telephony systems, and combine them all to communicate with the outside.
“[MERC] is a great tool, a more stable and reliable communications channel to maintain a permanent link,” Col. Cañas said.
It also allows for interoperability with other armies, given that the United States has donated the same type of equipment to Peru, Uruguay, and Paraguay. In fact, during the training period, links were tested with the Peruvian Armed Forces group deployed in MINUSCA, which verified its reach and effectiveness.
The mobile center is compatible with the Chilean Army’s communications system, which has efficient coverage throughout the entire country.
The donation also takes into account that when the MERCs are not deployed in humanitarian assistance operations, they can be used for emergencies during natural disasters in Chile, whether in urban or rural areas. In fact, the U.S. Armed Forces and National Guard use MERCs to communicate with civilian officials during domestic natural disaster or emergency response operations.