LIMA, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Peru is upgrading its key naval assets and acquiring new components for its air defenses as the country grapples with unrest among coca growers in the Amazon, suspected to be part of the cocaine trail to North America and other destinations for the drug.
The government has been unveiling plans over the past few weeks that include substantial investments in upgrades to the military equipment.
Top of the list are upgrades to Peruvian naval assets and the country's air defenses.
Italian-built Lupo class frigates form the high-end of Peru's naval defenses, with eight of the 3,000t Carvajal class ships said to be in service with varying stages of operational efficiency.
Four of the vessels were built under license from 1984-87, while the second batch of four frigates was decommissioned by the Italian navy and sold to Peru in 2004-06, the defenseindustrydaily.com Web site said.
Most of the upgrades are likely to affect the second batch of the ships, which includes the fourth ship bearing the name BAP Bolognesi, named in honor of Peruvian military hero Francisco Bolognesi. The first ship, Almirante Grau class cruiser BAP Coronel Bolognesi, was commissioned in 1907.
The naval upgrade is part of an overall strategy to build defenses against increasingly sophisticated and heavily armed drug gangs. Peru is the world's largest producer of coca, which is used to produce cocaine.
The upgrades to the BAP Bolognesi (FM-57), commissioned in 2006, will add new electronics, radar and decoy countermeasures to ship's arsenal. Some reports said Peru might also replace the old Italian Otomat anti-ship missiles on board the frigates with French Exocet MM40 Block III missiles.
Last month the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said Peru asked to buy four NATO Sea Sparrow MK57 MOD 10 that will replace its existing MOD 2 systems mounted above the helicopter hangar on the four ex-Italian ships from the second batch. The vessels include FM 55-58: BAP Aguirre, BAP Palacios, BAP Quinones besides BAP Bolognesi.
The agency, in its notification to Congress, said the possible sale would be worth about $50 million.
"The proposed sale will improve Peru's capability to meet current and future threats of enemy anti-ship weapons," the agency said. "Peru will use the enhanced capability of the MK57 MOD 10 NSSMS on its four Lupo class frigates purchased from Italy in 2004."
The frigates have MK57 MOD 2 NATO Seasparrow Systems modified to fire the Aspide air defense missile. The systems retain the ability to fire the RIM-7 Seasparrow missile and Peru intends to move from the Aspide missile to the RIM-7 Seasparrow in a future purchase.
Peru already has MK 57 Missile Systems and will have no difficulty absorbing the additional systems into its inventory, the agency said.
The prime contractors would be Raytheon Technical Service Co. and Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has declared a state of emergency in parts of the Amazon where coca growers have been protesting.
Humala called the emergency measure after farmers began an indefinite strike Sept. 11, blocking a major highway that connects the Ucayali department with the rest of the country, El Comercio reported.
The strike is a response to the government's policy of forced eradication of coca leaves, the main ingredient in cocaine.
Humala's government temporarily suspended the eradication of coca in August as a drug-control strategy.
The declaration will last 60 days and gives police more power to make arrests and suspends some constitutional rights.