Chile Submarine Capabilities

Due to Chile's physical geography, it has a larger maritime territory than its land surface area, guaranteeing the continued significance of maritime transport and security in its foreign policy. As such, Chile's Navy played an important role in the country's early history, and Chile continues to see its national destiny as inherently tied to the sea. [1] According to the Chilean Navy's public affairs directorate, the mission of the Chilean Navy is "to participate in Chile's foreign security and military defense on an ongoing basis, thereby safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity." [2] In particular, Chile's national strategic plan defines its role in terms of three vectors - Defense, Maritime, and International - which much be effectively controlled in order to ensure that "during times of conflict, or peace the Armed Forces may act freely and Chile's maritime activities may take place without interference or restrictions." [3] The Chilean Navy is responsible for protecting more than 4,300 km of coastline and 4.5 million square kilometers of maritime territory, including the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf. [4] In addition to defending against external attacks, the Navy protects the nation from such threats as drug trafficking, piracy, and terrorism. [5]

The Chilean Navy currently operates a flotilla of four diesel-electric attack submarines, which are based in Talcahuano. The fleet consists of two modern Scorpène-class vessels, commissioned in 2005 and 2006 respectively, and two older Type 209 boats, which were acquired in 1984. [6] Though plans initially were in place to equip the entire submarine fleet with Scorpène-class submarines, those plans have since been cancelled in favor of modernizing the Type-209 submarines with some features of the Scorpène-class submarines. Chile is also planning to construct a Crocodile-class 250 submarine that has been developed by the steel company Vapor Industrial. The vessel, introduced as a "light SSK," is intended to be used in a coastal-littoral denial role, outfitted with both wire-guided torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. [7]

The Chilean Navy originated in 1817 during the War of Independence. Initially organized and commanded by Lord Thomas Cochrane, who had been a captain in the British Royal Navy, it quickly became a prominent naval force in South America. [8] The strong naval tradition has been maintained in the country for nearly two centuries. Considered highly competent, the Chilean Navy possesses significant technological advantages over the naval forces of many of its neighbors, despite their numerical advantages. [9]

Chile's two Scorpène-class submarines were jointly developed and constructed by the Spanish shipbuilder Navantia and the French company DCN (now called DCNS). The first vessel, the O'Higgins (SS-23), was built at the DCN shipyard in Cherbourg, and the second, the Carrera (SS-22), was built at the Navantia shipyard in Cartagena. [10] They were purchased as replacements for two Oberon-class submarines, which were retired in 1998 and 2003. [11] The Scorpènes are equipped with flank-area sonar and six 533mm torpedo tubes that can deploy Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subaquei (WASS) Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes and SM-39 Exocet anti-ship missiles with a range of 50km. Each submarine can carry a total of 18 torpedoes and missiles, or 30 mines. The submarines employ the Submarine Tactical Integrated Combat System (SUBTICS), an advanced combat management system, and can support a crew of 32. [12]

The Navy's Type 209 submarines, the CS Thomson (SS-20) and CS Simpson (SS-21), were constructed by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft in Kiel, Germany and commissioned in 1984. The Type-209s are armed with eight 533mm torpedo tubes and can carry up to 14 torpedoes. [13] In 2012, the Simpson completed modernization at the Astilleros y Maestranzas de la Armada (ASMAR) shipyard to operate the SUBTICS combat management system and carry the WASS Black Shark heavyweight torpedos, like the Scorpène-class submarines do. [14] In April 2015, Thales announced its plans to build an "acoustic technology center" in Brazil. The facility will produce sonars that, among other things, will be used to upgrade the Chilean Scorpènes. [15] The Thomson is expected to be modernized as well, but no information could be obtained on when the second upgrade will be completed. These modernizations are reported to extend the life of the Type-209 submarines until 2023-2025. [16]

The Chilean Navy participates in a number of bilateral and multilateral naval exercises, including UNITAS Pacific Phase, Rim of the Pacific, Team Work South, Maritime Coordination and Training, Team Work North, the PANAMAX training exercise, and many others. [17] In late 2012 and early 2013, the CS Simpson deployed for three months to take part in training activities with the US Navy, including the Diesel Electric Submarine Initiative (DESI) and CHILEMAR IV. The purpose of these exercises was to improve joint interoperability and cooperation. [18]

Despite Chile's current modernization and replacement rate, which is the highest in Latin America, it is not expected that Chile will expand beyond its current fleet of four diesel-electric submarines. [19] Instead, Chile seems more intent on improving the capabilities of its existing fleet. The Chilean Navy is currently in negotiations with the Spanish communications company Indra to develop an enhanced satellite communication system for its Scorpène-class submarines. [20] Moreover, while some of Chile's neighbors (e.g., Brazil and Argentina) are exploring or actively developing the capability for nuclear-powered submarines, Chile appears to be focusing more on better training and modernization for its diesel-electric submarine fleet.

[1] "The Navy: A key institution in Chile," Chilean Navy Public Affairs Directorate,
[2] "The Mission of the Chilean Navy," Chilean Navy Public Affairs Directorate,
[3] "Jane's Underwater Warfare Systems: Submarine Forces - Chile," IHS Jane's, 15 June 2011,
[4] "Chile: Facing the Pacific Ocean," Chilean Navy Public Affairs Directorate,
[5] "The Maritime Vector," Chilean Navy Public Affairs Directorate,
[6] "SS-20 Thomson,", 11 December 2012,; "SSK Scorpene Class Attack Submarine," Naval Technology, (2012),
[7] "Jane's Navy International: Chilean firm present light SSK" IHS Jane's, 13 December 2012,; "SSK Scorpene Class Attack Submarine," Naval Technology, Accessed 22 May 2014,
[8] "Chile Navy-History,", 29 November 2012,
[9] Roberto R. Flammia, "Coppering Soldiers: Forging New Roles for the Chilean Military," (Thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, 2005).
[10] "Jane's Underwater Warfare Systems: Submarine Forces - Chile," IHS Jane's, 15 June 2011,
[11] "SSK Scorpene Class Attack Submarine," Naval Technology, Accessed 22 May 2014,
[12] "SSK Scorpene Class Attack Submarine," Naval Technology, (2012),; "Scorpene Class Patrol Submarine,", (2006),; "Scorpene Class Diesel Air Independent Propulsion Patrol Submarine," Navy Recognition, 6 April 2012,
[13] "Military Submarines Type 209 Class," Military Submarines, (2012),
[14] "El submarino chileno Simpson se reincorpora al servicio tras su modernización en ASMAR," Información de Defensa y Securidad, 18 June 2012,
[15] Andrew MacDonald, "Thales to Open Sonar Production in Brazil," Janes, 15 April 2015,
[16] "Jane's World Navies: Chile," IHS Jane's, 8 April 2014,
[17] "Contributions to the Nations Foreign Affairs," Chilean Navy Public Affairs Directorate,
[18] Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sean Allen, "Chilean Submarine Departs Mayport after Completing Exercise with U.S. Navy," Official Website of the U.S. Navy, 7 February 2013,
[19] "Jane's Sentinel Security Assessment: Procurement - Chile" IHS Jane's, 25 March 2014,
[20] "Jane's Sentinel Security Assessment: Procurement - Chile" IHS Jane's, 25 March 2014,

June 24, 2015
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The submarine proliferation resource collection is designed to highlight global trends in the sale and acquisition of diesel- and nuclear-powered submarines. It is structured on a country-by-country basis, with each country profile consisting of information on capabilities, imports and exports.

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2019.