The US exigency to stall the burgeoning influence of Eastern powers, especially China, could end India’s plan to sell homegrown Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas to Argentina.
Recent reports suggest that the Capitol is seeking Congress’ authorization to allow Denmark to sell F-16 fighters to Argentina.
Argentina has been actively scouting for fighter jets to add to its inventory to fill the gap left by the retirement of Mirage aircraft in 2015. Its current operational inventory includes at least 10 A-4 fighter bombers, which armed IA-63 Pampa jet trainers supplement.
The Argentinian defense ministry has allocated US$664 million to acquire 12 new fighter jets in September 2021. With the UK putting an arms embargo in place against Argentina, the choices for it have been reduced to Russian-built MiG-29 and MiG-35, China-Pakistan-built JF-17, and Indian-made LCA Tejas.
A recent report in local media claimed that the US had pressurized Argentina to choose Danish F-16s over Chinese or Indian fighter jets. The US is close to authorizing the sale of 24 F-16 fighter jets to Argentina, aiming to become the leading arms supplier since the Malvinas or Falkland War.
“The White House has once again pressured Congress to approve the sale of 24 F-16 fighter jets to Argentina, which has not yet decided whether to buy the Pakistan-made Chinese JF 17 Thunder or the Indian-made HAL Tejas,” the report read.
The report pegged Washington’s reservations about the deal to “the global geopolitical dispute between the Western and Asian powers.” The main obstacle to the sale is the UK’s embargo on the export and trade of goods judged to enhance the Argentine military capability.
The EurAsian Times reported that during his visit to India earlier this month, the Argentinian defense minister Jorge Taiana flagged the issue of British components in LCA.
“We have sent our pilots to fly and consider different aircraft worldwide. One issue is that if the plane has even one British component, the British do not allow it to sell it to Argentina. LCA has 16 such components. The issue is to change or replace these components,” the Argentinian defense minister added.
According to the report, the MiG-35 proposed by Russia was initially ruled out, and the armed forces see little chance for the Indian HAL Tejas. But, the recent trip to India by Defense Minister Taiana, alongside Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero, seemed to revive the government’s interest in purchasing HAL Tejas fighter jets.
Argentina, however, signed a Letter of Intent for the prospective purchase of 20 Light Combat Helicopters and Light Utility Helicopters.
The report quotes sources indicating that the UK has already lifted that barrier at the behest of the US, and now only the financial conditions need to be agreed upon. And if the US Congress passes the law enabling the sale from Denmark, the aircraft can be delivered as early as August.
The Argentinian newspaper also observed a flurry of activities between the two countries as two US defense heavyweights, the number two in the State Department, Wendy Sherman, and the head of the Southern Command, Laura Richardson, were in Argentina.
“The urgency of the United States to seal the aircraft deal with Argentina is aimed at countering the proposal for the JF-17s produced by China and Pakistan, which comprises fewer units (15) but are new and offer the possibility of ordering a second and third batch,” the report added.
In the technical specifications, the F-16 qualifies as a more powerful aircraft with more weapons capacity than the JF-17, according to the FAD experts. However, it has a very low engine intake port that tends to ingest many foreign objects and ‘would require investment in improving airport infrastructures.”
Argentina Jumping Through Procurement Hoops
Argentina’s contestation with the UK over Malvinas or the Falkland Islands is proving to be a major hurdle to securing a deal for its Air Force. Currently, JF-17 is the ‘most’ available fighter jet for it.
Britain has been throwing a spanner in the Argentine plans of acquiring fighter jets by placing embargoes on components of aircraft that belong to the UK. It pressured Spain to ditch a deal to supply surplus Mirage F1M fighters to its neighbor.
A deal for Israeli Kfir jets also seems to have fallen apart due to Britain’s pressure and US control of the aircraft’s J79 engines. In addition, the UK essentially vetoed the export of the Brazilian-license-built Swedish JAS Gripen and the South Korean KAI FA-50 Fighting Eagle.
Even Argentina’s attempt to procure five French Dassault Super Etendard Modernise jets was rebuffed due to a Britain-levied arms embargo over the Martin Baker-manufactured MK6 ejection seat used in the aircraft. This resulted in the cancellation of the potential deal.
The multitude of canceled deals has left Argentina, whose neighbors Chile and Brazil are better equipped with fighter planes, in a lurch. The Brazilian Air Force is set to receive 36 Saab Gripen E fighters.
- 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