Military Aviation Plays Passive Role in Chile’s October Uprising and Riots

Air Force Boeing 737 922 off loading troops and cargo at La Serena/La Florida airport (FACH, 30.10)

Chilean military and police aircraft were called into action shortly after riots erupted in the nation’s capital and rapidly spread to the rest of the country last month. After accumulating pressure over the years, social tension sparked into widespread protests on Friday 18.10, following an increase in Santiago de Chile Metro fares.

Demonstrations soon slipped into widespread riots as Chilean infrastructure and retail facilities were vandalized by anarchists, criminals and opportunists who stole merchandise or caused unexpected levels of damage to several Metro stations and supermarkets. Caught by surprise, President Sebastián Piñera’s government initially activated a “constitutional state of emergency” to try and contain the riots with police assets. But as the situation worsened over the weekend, a controversial decision was made to deploy military forces to the nation’s streets and start calling curfews in larger cities.

Air Force UH-1H H-83 flying over San Bernardo (Luis Quintana, 21.10).

Aviation assets were activated on Friday 18 as Carabineros and Policía de Investigaciones (PDI) helicopters started surveying anti-Metro-rate-increases protests and initial riots over the capital. As the military got involved in the crisis starting on Saturday 19, Ejército, Fuerza Aérea (FACH) and Armada fixed and rotary-wing assets were deployed in a diversity of roles, including protests and riot surveillance, command and control evaluations, troop transport and even bush firefighting duties.

From research over a variety of Internet sources and personal sightings by the author and its local spotter network, the Carabineros were noted operating surveillance flights with Airbus H135, AgustaWestland AW139 and AW109E Power and MBB Bo-105, with the German-built twin being reported in social media as tear gassing peaceful Santiago protests. Two PDI Ecureuils were also noted over the capital in the early days of the crisis.

Army AS532ALe H289 flying over San Bernardo in Southern Santiago. Notice chin mounted FLIR (Luis Quintana, 21.10).

Ejército was also very active flying surveillance and command and control missions over the capital with up to three different AS532 Cougar and an occasional MD530 Defender, sharing duties with FACH UH-1H Huey, Bell 206 and 412 and S-70 Blackhawk helicopters. Armada Bo-105 and Bell 206 helicopters and maritime surveillance aircraft were also reported flying surveillance missions over Valparaíso and FACH Bell 412s were also reported flying command and control missions over Antofagasta, Iquique and Punta Arenas.

Army AS532AL H281 flying over the North-eastern (and wealthiest) part of the city (Máximo Ay, 22.10)

FACH C-130 Hercules and Boeing 737 and 767 as well as Ejército Airbus CN235 and C-212 Aviocar transport aircraft were also noted or reported carrying troops around the country to reinforce military garrisons for the duration of the state of emergency and the curfews which ceased on Sunday 27.

Additional to all above, FACH IAI Hermes surveillance drones were rumoured to be operating over the capital during the hottest curfew nights and two FACH generals were appointed to lead intervention task forces throughout the state of emergency in Antofagasta (general José Miguel Aguirre Gamboa, CO V Brigada Aérea) and Puerto Montt (general Cristian Eguía Calvo, CO III Brigada Aérea).

For a detailed list of aircraft noted during the on-going crisis, please visit this dedicated query to the author’s Airframes Data Base (text in Spanish).

Acknowledgements: Luis Quintana and Eduardo Cancino-Román contributed actively to this report.