LCA Tejas or JF-17? Argentina Finalizes Budget For Fighter Jet Acquisition; Could Announces Winner By End Of 2022

The hunt for Argentina’s next fighter aircraft appears to be moving swiftly, with the government informing the parliamentarians about the budget it plans to spend on purchasing new fighter jets and constructing related infrastructure. 

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Last week, in response to inquiries from the Defense Committee in the Deputies Chamber, Juan Manzur, the head of the Cabinet of Ministers, and Defence minister Jorge Taiana’s office said approximately $684 million would be spent on the entire process.

Argentina has allocated $664 million to purchase combat aircraft and an additional $20 million to build the necessary infrastructure to support its operation. 

The Argentine Air Force had been looking for new supersonic fourth-generation aircraft for decades. However, these efforts have been hindered by the country’s challenging financial situation and the British embargo. 

The South American country has also made known its requirements for its upcoming fighter aircraft. According to reports, the country’s air force plans to purchase a multirole fighter jet equipped with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, an in-flight refueling system, a tactical data link, and an electronic warfare defensive suite. 

The aircraft should not contain any British components, and the in-flight refueling system should be interoperable with tanker aircraft currently in the inventory of the Argentine Air Force. 

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Argentina’s defense ministry mentioned that the aircraft with an open architecture would be required to incorporate armaments and equipment from any source. But, the fighter jet must not have any systems, subsystems, or components that are British-made or -designed. 

This is because the United Kingdom placed an arms embargo on Argentina following the Falkland Islands war in 1982, preventing the country from acquiring weapons with British-made components. 

Argentina’s attempts to purchase aircraft over the years, including the Swedish Saab Gripen and later the South Korean FA-50 trainer/light fighter, were also thwarted under the British embargo. Both aircraft have British parts, including ejection seats made by UK-based Martin Baker.

The responses provided to lawmakers also list the warplanes that have already been evaluated and are being considered as potential options.

These include the JF-17, jointly manufactured by China and Pakistan, the F-16, built by the American company Lockheed Martin, the LCA Tejas, developed by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., and the Russian Mikoyan MiG-35.

The Chief of the Joint Staff of the Argentina Armed Forces, General Juan Martín Pale,o toured Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra, seen here with a PAC JF-17C Thunder Block III 4+ generation multirole fighter aircraft.

However, it is essential to note that the American F-16 planes that are thought to have been offered to Argentina would not be equipped with an AESA radar. Additionally, they cannot be used with the tankers that the Argentine Air Force (Spanish: Fuerza Aérea Argentina, or simply FAA) currently uses for in-flight refueling operations.

Regarding Russian aircraft, Argentina would likely be reluctant to purchase the Mig-35 due to political and logistical considerations. Any military collaboration with Russia could also lead to US sanctions against the nation.

As a result, it is believed that the LCA Tejas and JF-17 might be leading the competition. JF-17 has already undergone a detailed evaluation by government and FAA officials, unlike India’s LCA Tejas.

Brigadier Xavier Isaac, Chief of FAA General Staff, confirmed in a recent interview that the Argentine Air Force is yet to conduct a thorough study of India’s Tejas aircraft. 

Tejas Mk1A and JF-17, he indicated, are the front-runners in the race because they fully adhere to the technical standards established by the military and are suitable with logistics and other support components, one of which is their capacity to execute probe-and-drogue AAR.

The Indian Air Force Tejas performs at the opening ceremony of the Singapore Air Show on February 15, 2022.

India’s Tejas

India is extensively marketing its Tejas light fighter for the Argentine Air Force. The fighter aircraft was explicitly mentioned in the work plan established by the two nations to strengthen their bilateral cooperation. 

In August 2022, India admitted the Government of Argentina had expressed interest in the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) “Tejas” produced by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. 

The two nations have also announced to support the exchange of military visits, defense training, and cooperation for the joint manufacturing of defense-related equipment.

Furthermore, the plane could potentially be budget-friendly for the Argentine Air Force. However, the main obstacle Tejas must overcome is that it incorporates a few British-made components. 

Although the Tejas’ original radar was British in origin, experts think India can easily replace it with its domestic Uttam AESA radar. But, British-designed in-flight refueling mechanism in Tejas would be more difficult to replace because it will require structural changes.

Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar (via DRDO)

The jet also has a British-made ejection seat and replacing it would cost a lot of money to redesign the cabin. Nevertheless, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited assured Argentina that it would replace all British-origin parts to address Argentina’s concerns about the UK embargo.

Isaac said that Argentina plans to conduct an in-depth evaluation of Tejas and determine its viability by the end of October.

JF-17 Leading The Race? 

Argentine requirements have highlighted the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder aircraft and demonstrated its advantages over competitors. The aircraft has also generated considerable interest from Argentina.

Although ejection seats are standard on Pakistani JF-17s built by British Martin-Baker, China has a viable domestic replacement for the British seat. 

General Juan Martin Paleo, the Chief of the Joint Staff of Argentine armed forces, recently visited Pakistan. Paleo also toured the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) at Kamra and learned more about the JF-17 fighter aircraft. 

Since the JF-17 contains no British components, it holds an advantage over India’s LCA Tejas. 

That being said, the Argentine Air Chief stated that the country would formally declare the winner by the end of 2022 after all assessments and thorough research with comparative analysis for all platforms have been completed.