It has become clear that despite “intense lobbying” from India, Argentina has opted to purchase American F-16 fighter jets.
Just one step short of announcing the finalization of F-16 as the top contender for its air force, Argentina has signed a Transfer to Third Parties (TPT) document with the US to authorize the transfer of 38 second-hand F-16s from Denmark.
Argentinian news portal Aero Naves inferred the development as “an acceptance of the conditions proposed by the offeror (United States).” However, another school of thought indicates that it is not the end of the road for the Indian Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas and the Chinese JF-17.
The Argentinian Air Force has been aggressively looking to fill the capability void left by the retirement of its 16 Dassault Mirage III fighter jets in 2015. Its current operational inventory includes at least 10 A-4 fighter bombers, which are armed IA-63 Pampa jet trainer supplements.
The TPT document is issued by the Department of Political-Military Affairs of the US State Department’s Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfer. It is the body responsible for authorizing arms transfers to a third country by another State that has acquired US military equipment.
Following the signing of the TPT, the next step is the delivery of the formal offer for the aircraft. “After having the corresponding permission, it is Denmark that must make the offer as the operator of the 38 F-16s,” the report read. There are six F-16 Block 10 and 32 F-16 Block 15, worth approximately US $ 338.6 million.
The US has approved the sale of the 38 F-16 fighters to Argentina. The approval considers a package of support, equipment, and maintenance information in addition to armament.
The report conceded that the F-16 is a battle-proven platform with a high availability of spare parts. While the jet belongs to the first versions of the aircraft, it can undergo modernization to keep them fighting fit.
The Argentinian defense ministry will evaluate the offer from the US and Denmark. China and India are also expected to give their offers concurrently.
The development is in sync with the report carried out by the EurAsian Times earlier that Argentina, since the very beginning, was interested in buying Indian-made helicopters – Light Utility Helicopters and Medium Utility Helicopters.
When the Argentinian defense minister visited the Indian aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bengaluru in July 2023, he signed a Letter of Intent with HAL Chairman and Managing Director CB Ananthakrishnan on “productive cooperation and acquisition of Light and Medium Utility Helicopters” for the armed forces of the Argentine Republic.
“But that (LoI for helicopters) was it,” said a senior HAL official. “There was no question of any deal with Argentina on the Tejas aircraft during that visit, though they showed interest in learning about the capabilities of the LCA and paid a visit to the LCA complex in Bengaluru.”
India’s Diplomatic Force
India has also lobbied aggressively to sell LCA to Argentina. The Indian Ambassador to Argentina, Dinesh Bhatia, has been constantly meeting the Argentinian defense officials and tweeting about keeping the hope for clinching the first LCA deal alive.
The news portal also notes the “intense lobbying” done by Asian countries has deployed a strong lobby to make Argentina a new client. For both, the fact that the trans-Andean country buys its respective fighters (JF-17 in the case of China – Pakistan and Tejas by India) is important at commercial and geopolitical levels.
The US has been insistent on selling F-16s to Argentina to prevent Chinese influence in South America from increasing. “For this reason, they seek to ensure that Argentina buys the F-16 as soon as possible, especially given the political closeness that the current government has with China,” the report reads. “The Tejas option is gaining strength again after the announcement of Argentina’s integration into the BRICS bloc,” the report concludes.
The Elusive Maiden Deal For LCA Tejas
Since the time the Indian government has expressed interest in turning the country into an arms exporter, there have been countries that have shown interest in Tejas. However, the indigenous aircraft has not yet been able to clinch a deal.
Many countries from Africa, South America, and South East Asia have shown interest in the Indian fighter jet. Nigeria and Argentina are among the nations globally that have shown “interest” in the “Made in India” combat jets.
In August 2022, India’s Minister of State for Defense Ajay Bhatt informed parliament that the United States, Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines were among six nations that have expressed interest in India’s Tejas aircraft. He said that Argentina and Egypt were the other two nations keen on Tejas aircraft for their air forces.
In 2021, the LCA had come close to securing a deal to supply 18 combat aircraft to the Malaysian Air Force when it was shortlisted among the top two contenders alongside South Korean KAI-built FA-50.
To sweeten the deal, HAL offered to establish a Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) facility, provide aviation management training, and collaborate with Malaysian firms to manufacture the aerostructures locally. Malaysia eventually opted for the South Korean combat jet and opted for FA-50.
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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