Weapons of the Elite Ground Elements of the Chilean Air Force (FACh)
by Julio A. Montes

The Fuerza Aérea de Chile (FACh) was established in February, 1913 at El Bosque, and by the year 2000, the service was rated among the best in Latin America. There are four main airports within the Santiago, Chile metropolitan area. The Benitez Airport is the International Airport; while Tobolaba Airport functions as the domestic terminal. The main Air Force Base is located at El Bosque, and the 2nd Air Brigade formerly operated from Los Cerrillos Air Base. We will take this opportunity to have a closer look into the modern and efficient Chilean Air Force, with emphasis on its elite ground element and a review of their small arms.

Currently, the principal air superiority fighter is the F-5E. It was acquired in the US but highly modified and modernized by the local ENAER Company, with assistance from Israel (IAI), with the Elta EL/2032B multimode radar, integrated EW, and new jammers, chaff/flare dispensers, HOTAS controls, El-Op HUD, central air data computer and other improvements. The Tiger III - as it is called now - is able to use the latest air-to-air missile series produced by Israel, such as the Python III & IV.

The Air Force also acquired the complete fleet of Belgium Mirage 5 fighters modernized to Elkan standard. The M5 Mirages were overhauled and modernized by SABCA in Belgium and placed for sale as soon as the work was completed due to defense budget cuts in that European nation. The Elkan (Guardian) standard includes canard surfaces, nose strakes, MIL-STD 1553D databus, GEC Ferranti HUD, Thomson CSF laser rangefinder, NAVWAS with a contour matching terrain system, active and passive ECM, HOTAS, Martin-Baker MK-10 ejection seats, and a single point refueling probe. Chile purchased the entire stock, and in doing so, the FACh was able to greatly improve the combat element of its air force.

The FACh already operated several Mirage 50 modified by the ENAER/IAI team to the Pantera standards. The Pantera (Panther) includes canard surfaces, multimode Elta EL/M2001B radar, Elta nav/attack system, Caiquen III RWR, and Eclipse chaff/flare dispensers. The combat element is complemented with a handful of Vietnam-era A-37B Dragonflies, and more recent A-36 Falcons (Halcones), or Spanish CASA C-101s assembled locally.

In 1954, the Chilean Air Force reorganized its basic structure that survives to this day. The FACh Combat Command is divided into 5 Air Brigades (AB). Each brigade consists of one Base Wing, with two or four operational Squadrons (Groups), a liaison flight, an air defense group, and an electronic communication group: The 1st AB is housed at Los Condores, in the northern Iquique; the 3rd AB is based at El Tepual, in Puerto Montt; the 4th AB operates from Ibanes at Punta Arenas, and the 5th operates from Cerro Moreno, Antofagasta. Until recently, the 2nd AB was housed at Los Cerrillos, in the vicinity of Santiago, but the unit is in the process of relocating. Also based in Los Cerrillos is the Escuadrilla de Boinas Azules.


The FACh organized a special jump team on 27 November, 1971. The team would eventually adopt the name Boinas Azules (Blue Berets), and has achieved considerable success in the sport arena, winning the parachute championship celebrated at Girardet, Colombia, every year since 1997. As implied by their name, their distinctive attire is the blue beret.

All members of the team must complete the rigorous course at the Army Parachute and Special Forces School, with each team member averaging approximately 2000 jumps. With such an impressive resume it was obvious that the team could accomplish other special operational tasks. Therefore, in time of war, each team member is ready to function as Combat Air Controller, and the team, as a whole, has mastered some 75 combat specialties.

The first jump of the Chilean Parachute battalion took place on 20 August, 1965 before passing on to form the nucleus and cadre of the renamed Army Special Forces and Parachute School. This facility provides training to the Blue Berets in the specialties of Jump Master, Pathfinder, Rigger, and HAHO and HALO techniques. Jump platforms are provided by C-130s and CASA Aviocars C-121s.

Small arms available to the team members are basically the same than those used by the Army Commandos, ranging from CZ-75, Beretta 92F and Sig P220 pistols, and Taurus PM-12, FAMAE-SAF, UZI and MP5 submachine guns. For precision work, the Blue Berets prefer the Galil SR99 in 7.62mm.

The SAF & Mini SAF submachine guns are based on the proven SIG design, bearing resemblance to the SIG short carbines. The guns contain modular construction as to make most parts interchangeable. The upper and lower groups are made of stamped sheet steel and the overall finish is in black phosphate. The function is by blowback and they all have a last shot hold-open device to speed reloading. The sights are very similar to the MP5 type with a rotary drum rear and a hooded post up front. The rear sight has 50, 100, and 150 meter range selectors and can be adjusted for windage. A quick detachable scope mount can be mounted on the upper receiver. The guns are well made and robust, and use straight line magazines. The Mini-SAF has a 115mm barrel while the standard SAF has a 200mm barrel. The Mini-SAF can be fitted with a folding stock in much the same manner as the MP5K PDW.


The Air Defense Regiment was established on 15th May, 1930. Today, the Grupo de Defensa Antiaérea 24 and the Grupo de Comunicaciones y Detección 34 are part of 1st Air Brigade (Los Condores AB, Iquique); Grupo de Defensa Antiaérea 25 and Grupo de Comunicaciones y Detección 35 are part of 3rd Air Brigade (El Tepual AB, Puerto Montt); Grupo de Defensa Antiaérea 23 and the Grupo de Comunicaciones y Detección 33 are part of 4th Air Brigade (Carlos Ibañez AB, Punta Arenas); Grupo de Defensa Antiaérea 21 and the Grupo de Comunicaciones y Detección 31 are part of 5th Air Brigade (Cerro Moreno AB, Antofagasta). The 2nd Air Brigade (Los Cerrillos AB) was originally equipped with the Grupo de Defensa Antiaérea 22 and Grupo de Comunicaciones y Detección 32, that later formed the nucleus of an Air Defense Regiment at Colina. In early 2003, Gral. Osvaldo Sarabia Vilches announced a reshuffle of the FACh units, including the transfer of the AD Regiment from Colina to Quintero Air Base, and its reorganization into a Rapid Deployment Force.

The Regiment is tasked with the defense of FACh airfields and facilities. The unit performs in a role very similar to the RAF Regiment. Each Group is divided into a ground defense element, and an AD element. The black beret worn by these operators also indicates the completion of the Army Commando Course, and prompts the nickname Aquilas Negras (Black Eagles). The Army Commando course at Pelpedue lasts 5 months. The first Commando Course took place from the first to the thirtieth of November in 1962. Elements of the regiment are also trained as Commando Instructors, Snipers, and Para-divers by the Army. In 1999 the Course PARASAR (Combat Parajumper SAR) was introduced to add Combat SAR skills to the regiment. The course covers trauma treatment, emergency medical response, extraction under any environment and conditions, parachute skills, diving, mountain SAR and basic aeronautics.

Until recently, the main air defense weapon was the British made Blowpipe SAM, but now the unit is equipped with the French Mistral MANPAD. There are also some Oerlikon DGF-001 35mm guns and one was on display for us at Los Cerrillos along with one Mistral MANPAD. Until recently there were some 20mm gun batteries still in use. The locally built FAMIL 20 is particularly interesting in that the first systems used recycled 20mm guns taken from obsolete Vampire fighters. The guns were matched to a locally designed mount to give a basic but fast tracking air defense system, and the rate of fire was reduced for ground use.

Until the National Workshop & Military Factories (FAMAE), was able to obtain the license for the production of SIG rifles and carbines, the military forces purchased weapons from many diverse sources. This is reflected in the various small arms, and other weapons systems, where we found material from very diverse origins. The 5.56mm Galil rifle, along with the newly arrived 5.56mm Minimi squad machine gun, is the standard weapon of the Regimental troops and Combat SAR operators. The FACh uses the MAG-58 in place of the more common HK21 and MG-3 found with the Army. The SIG rifles, built locally by FAMAE, also appear to be solely assigned to the Army. Officers carry the CZ-75 or the Beretta 92F pistols. There are some Milkor L6 Striker 6-round grenade launchers, and SPAS-15 shotguns, although there is considerable use of the more traditional Winchester and Remington models.

For precision work, there is the Galil SR99 semiautomatic in 7.62mm and Barrett M82 in 12.7mm. The SR99 was developed starting in 1982, when a requirement was issued in Israel for a precision rifle for ranges from 300 to 600 meters with standard ammunition. The SR99 is a gas operated rifle using a rotating bolt inside a bolt carrier which is propelled by the gas piston. The rifle comes with a barrel of 508mm in length and a folding stock, which makes it very compact for movement. The rifle also comes with a standard 6x40 telescope sight, and it is fed by a 20-round box magazine.

For base security and patrol, the regiment used, until recently, several armored vehicles made locally. The Makina Carancho 180 was made by Makina Ltda based on the Chevrolet S-10 pick up truck. The Makina Multi 163 has a hull with a shape very similar to the UR-416 and is based on a modified commercial design.


The ASA (agrupación Anti-Secuestros Aéreos) is a little known elite anti-hijacking element of the FACh. The unit lives in great secrecy, housed at “La Casona” (large house), a hangar located somewhere inside the Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport. The A.S.A. was established by government decree in 1981 with the sole responsibility to deal with terrorism and hijacked airplanes. It is thought that the unit consists of no more than 200 operators divided in several squadrons composed of 4-man teams. The Special Combat Skill badge must be earned by these operators by attending the respective training at the Army’s Parachute and Special Forces School. The course has duration of 4 1/2 months, and between others, the candidates are taught Tae Kwon Do to become experts in hand-to-hand combat. The A.S.A. has received training from the GIGN (France), GSG-9 (Germany), and HRT (USA). The unit has proved to be extremely effective by foiling a hijacking at Matavari Airport in the Eastern Island in 1989 and another hijacking attempt was thwarted in 1995 at Cerro Moreno Airport, Antofagasta.

Internal Security is the responsibility of the Carabineros, under the Ministry of Defense. The Carabineros are divided into 12 Police Regions, with one additional Police Region for the Metropolitan Area (Santiago). The Metro Police consists of 6 Zones, with 10 police precincts, sub-divided into several commissaries. There is a Special Forces precinct with the 28th, 29th and 40th SF commissaries, which are mainly anti-riot police squads. For SWAT type missions, the Carabineers work with the GOPE, or Grupo de Operaciones Policiales Especiales. The GOPE has been trained by the Germans and Israelis and it is believed that the GOPE consists of some 200 operators, divided in cells of 4 operators, and platoons of 25 to 30 men.

The similar UAT, or Unidad Anti-Terrorista, is located at the Tobolaba Airport, in Santiago, and remains under the Ministry of the Interior. The UAT consists of 150 operators divided into seven-man teams.

Small arms available to all these operators are basically the same, ranging from Beretta 92F and Sig P220 pistols, and FAMAE-SAF, UZI and MP5 submachine guns. There are also SIG SG-540 and Steyr AUG 5.56mm rifles, and several types of shotguns.

For precision work, these commandos prefer the German MSG-90 7.62mm, which comes equipped with a receiver meeting NATO-STANAG 2324 that allows a large assortment of optical and electronic sights to be mounted. The standard sight is a 12x telescope with range settings from 100 to 800 m. As with the SR99, the MSG is a semiautomatic rifle capable of rapid fire.

Additionally, there is the German Mauser SP-66 in 7.62mm that uses the Gehmann bolt system allowing fewer disturbances when operating the bolt. The rifle comes with a 650mm long barrel, and meets the same STANAG 2324 as the MSG-90. For extreme precision distance shooting, the commandos use the 12.7mm Barrett M82.


The very dear Hawker Hunter fighters were retired in 1995 with the arrival of more modern equipment. In 1988, Chile placed in orbit its first satellite, the Fasat-Bravo, launched from Baikonur, Russia. In 2000, the first female cadets were accepted in the Chilean Air Academy. On January 30, 2002, the Air Force Commander announced that the service is to invest $600 million in purchasing 10 F-16C Block 50 fighters from the United States. The F-16C had competed against the French Mirage 2000-5 and the Swedish Gripen. For most of the competition, the Swedish machine was ahead of the game, but last minute negotiations resulted in a change of heart in favor of the US aircraft. In return for choosing the F-16s, Chile hopes for two realizations: the approval and signature of the Free Trade Agreement with the US, and the possibility that the Falcons be supplemented with several more second-hand F-16 aircraft coming by transfer from US surplus. The FACh leadership would like to replace all front line fighters with F-16s, and several electronic and weapons systems already used in the Tigers, Panteras and Elkans could be recycled to the Falcons. With the F-16C fighters, the FACh will become the most modern air force in the region.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V7N12 (September 2004)
and was posted online on July 26, 2013


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