SANTIAGO, Chile — The Chilean government has agreed to buy nearly two dozen eight-wheel drive, light-armored troop transports from New Zealand’s Army to equip its marines.

The acquisition, worth $19.8 million, is part of plans to reinforce the expeditionary and rapid deployment capabilities of the Chilean Navy’s 1,200-strong amphibious expeditionary brigade.

New Zealand is to deliver the 22 secondhand vehicles in two tranches: one this year and the other in 2023. According to military sources in Chile, up to 40 vehicles are needed in the long term, and could come from either from New Zealand or other countries where they’re available.

Chile’s marine brigade was disbanded in the 1980s but recreated in 2012 as a motorized, combined-arms amphibious formation, set to transition into a mechanized formation in the short to medium term.

In 2014, Chile made plans to procure batches of AAV7 amphibious tracked armored vehicles as well as of a light-armored, wheeled troop transports yet to be selected. But the Navy in 2015 postponed these efforts to focus on modernization and upgrading its fleet of frigates.

Plans to reequip the marine brigade were reactivated in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to move forward. The idea of procuring AAV7s was put on hold, with attention turning to buying a wheeled, light-armored vehicle. New Zealand offered its surplus New Zealand Light Armoured Vehicles in 2020. After identifying the NZLAV as the most convenient solution, Chile began negotiations in 2021.

A derivative of the LAV III series from General Dynamics, the NZLAV is a 17-ton, eight-wheel drive, all-terrain vehicle with armor. Armed with a 25mm Bushmaster automatic gun, secondary machine guns and grenade launchers, each NZLAV can carry a crew of three and can accommodate and carry seven riflemen.

Chile’s plan to increase its capabilities to project force from the sea through amphibious means also calls for the procurement of four 9,800-ton multipurpose ships based on the amphibious transport dock type. That effort was launched this year and involves domestic production.

The new ships are expected to increase the capacity of the South American country to conduct community support and disaster relief operations.

“With this step, which will bolster the Chilean Navy[’s] capacity to project power inland from the sea through amphibious forces, Chile is also augmenting its capacity to join other nations in actions to contribute to international peace and security,” said Emilio Meneses, a retired defense scholar and independent analyst based in Santiago.

José Higuera is the South America correspondent for Defense News, covering South American and Latin American affairs.

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