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Latin America partner nations look to US in modernizing armored fleets

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 29, 2017) -- Several Latin American nations are modernizing their armored vehicle fleets, including Peru, which may soon finalize a sales deal with the U.S. to purchase Stryker vehicles.

The threat from "illicit networks" in Latin America continues to grow. And armored vehicle modernization efforts by partner nations there will play a part in combating the threat -- but the deals must be done right, said the deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command.

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Latin American nations like Colombia, Brazil, and Peru, for instance, are demonstrating the right way to modernize existing fleets of armored vehicles, including training and doctrine packages, said Lt. Gen. Joseph DiSalvo, deputy commander, U.S. Southern Command, during a conference here on armored vehicles.

Columbia, DiSalvo said, is now in its fifth year of a 15-year plan to modernize its armored vehicle fleet, which includes the Light Armored Vehicle family of infantry fighting vehicles.

"They are striving to get a combined arms combat capability right now," DiSalvo said.

He characterized Colombia's efforts to modernize their fleet as a "well-thought-out total system development of a legacy platform," that they expect will last them another 30 to 40 years. "They are getting the institutional side of the house in foundation right now, with their doctrine and training."

Colombia's neighbor, Peru, he said, is on a similar path with their own vehicle modernization effort. They are "on the verge of signing a letter of acceptance for foreign military sales for Stryker vehicles." It'll be the first FMS deal for the Stryker vehicle, he said.

"They are doing a very prudent approach in accounting for the total system," he said. That includes consideration of training, doctrine and sustainment.

And Brazil, he said, is active in upgrading some legacy systems as well, such as their M113 armored personnel carriers, and M109 howitzers.

"They know they have got to adjust the doctrine side, the training side, and the personnel side of the house," he said of Brazil. "We're seeing good examples here of smart modernization that's within budget and that will hopefully be successful for a legacy platform that will last them years out."

According to DiSalvo, the threat of state-on-state military action in Latin America is negligible. The real threat, he said, comes from the "illicit networks" operating there and "the ability of these networks to move the drugs." Included as part of that threat are gangs, special-interest alien movement, foreign terrorist fighter flow, illegally armed groups, and mass migration.

"There are a bunch of different activities that go to undermine the security and governance and stability within Latin America -- all because of the existence of these illicit networks," he said.

Illicit mining operations also threaten effective governance and the environment in Latin America, he said, including mining operations for gold and other minerals. "Right now that's generating more illicit revenue than the drug trafficking," he said. "It's a huge concern, plus the environmental damage being done, all pose a serious threat to the region."

Considering the threats they face and their needs in combatting them, governments in Latin America should look to wheeled armored combat vehicles, he said.

Already, nations in Latin America have such capability: the Swiss-designed Piranha, the Brazilian-made Cascavel, the Russia-made BTR, and the American-made Humvees, for instance. But the technology, he said, is old. "Right now, it probably isn't sufficient enough to do what is necessary for the survivability, maneuverability, and lethality to go ahead and degrade the [illicit] networks for them."

Such vehicles, he believes, will need to operate in a range of complex environments, like mountains, deserts and jungles.

When partner nations in Latin America are looking to modernize their capability, he said, consideration must be given not just to the hardware, but also the training, doctrinal changes and sustainment. "The whole bit," he said. That requires a commitment to a long-term plan.

In the past, he said, the standard for buying gear or for modernization of existing gear, was to field a system and then let the training and military occupational specialization and maintenance training "catch up later."

But now, he said, partner nations know they have to "build that doctrinal base and training foundation first. There is progress being made for that now, and the professional education on that."

DiSalvo warned against modernization "on the cheap."

Dealing with the United States for foreign military sales isn't inexpensive, he said. But partner nations in Latin America should resist the temptation to do modernization "the easy way," which might involve buying equipment from other nations that don't provide the training, support, and partnership that comes with buying from the United States.

If they go that route, he said, the "good news" is that they'll get gear quickly. But the bad news is that "it won't be a total-systems-type program."

Such systems might initially be operational and meet partner nation needs, but "when you don't have the sustainment, the training, or the legacy infrastructure to support [those] systems ... you probably just bought a 30-ton paperweight 10 years down the road. You've added another variant to an already too-many-fleeted program, which will make it impossible to sustain, and you've done nothing to get that legacy system you can afford for 30 to 40 to 50 years."

Buying on the cheap, he said, "in zero to five years it seems advantageous, but in the long run it winds up being counterproductive."

Modernization for ground combat vehicles in Latin America, DiSalvo said, must be "a very deliberate process." What the Army tells partners is that "you have to commit to an investment" when it comes to modernization, and U.S. platforms, he said, will provide a "total system."

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