SANTIAGO, Chile, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- The Chilean navy is considering options to modernize its ageing naval fleet and will retire at least one missile bought it brought from Germany in the late 1990s.
Military regeneration has dominated center-right President Sebastian Pinera's defense modernization program since he came to power in 2010. Pinera's economic plans were upset by crippling earthquakes soon after he assumed office. Much of the country's copper export earnings were spent on rebuilding damaged infrastructure and associated programs.
The military's rather fragile state continues to rankle Chile's military commanders, said to be the source of frequent muted pleas for greater defense allocations and investments. But defense spending in Chile remains tight, when compared to Brazil's big-spending defense establishment.
Pinera's economic plans were also sidelined by student protests throughout last year that challenged entrenched private interests in the education sector, criticized as favoring the country's small privileged minority.
However, some of Chile's defense inventories are so outdated that delaying their replacement is no longer considered an option.
One of four missile boats the Chilean navy operates is soon to be retired, the Chilean navy said on its website. It wasn't immediately clear how the retiring LM 36 Guardiamarina Riquelme would be replaced.
The Guardiamarina Riquelme, a former German missile boat known as Wolf, has been in Chile's navy since 1997, when it was acquired second-hand from Germany. The boat was bought from Germany along with three other Type 148 Tiger class vessels.
The patrol boat was built at Cherbourg, France, launched in January 1974 and transferred to Chile in August 1997, World Warships reported.
All four warships are said to be armed with MM-38 Exocet missiles, 76mm OTO-Melara guns and two .50-caliber machine guns.
Chile has three other Israeli-made Sa'ar 4 class missile boats that served earlier in the Israeli navy.
The Chilean naval boats' main role has been to guard Chile's naval waters and keep vigil over current problems of contraband trade, including narcotics and illegal immigration to and from neighboring countries.
Chile's economic growth has drawn migrants from neighboring countries faced with slower growth, unemployment and social dislocation.
The Chilean Defense News and other Chilean defense bloggers speculated that at least one of the Israeli-made missile boats could already be undergoing refits in the country's southern shipyards.
LM 34 Angamos was spotted heading toward southern Chile's Talcahuano repair dock in the Concepcion province, the Noticias FFAA Chile said.
Two other Israeli-made patrol boats are based in Punta Arenas, southern Chile's major energy and trade hub in the Magallanes and Antarctic region.
The Chilean navy also plans to replace its aging search and rescue Cessna O-2A Skymaster, El Mercurio de Valparaiso reported.