The Argentinian government has approved a plan to spend $684 million on new combat aircraft and related expenses to bolster the country’s aging air force.  

The plan was announced by the chief of the Cabinet of Ministers, Juan Manzur.  

$20 million will be spent on infrastructure to support the new aircraft, with the remainder being used for the purchase.  

The decision marks an increase from a budget draft published in 2021, which included a proposition to spend $664 million on the entire procurement program.  

According to sources within the government, quoted by Defense News, the Argentinian government expects to purchase a fleet of multirole jets with electronically scanned array (EASA) radar, in-flight refueling system a data link and electronic warfare suite.  

Three competitors  

Some Argentinian media have reported that four aircraft are being considered: the CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder, the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, the UAC MiG-35, and the HAL Tejas.  

Speaking to Infodefensa.com the Chief of the General Staff of Argentine Air Force (FAA) Xavier Isaac said the MiG-35 is no longer being considered due to the “complex” international situation and the fact that the aircraft is not in serial production.  

The remaining three aircraft each have their advantages and disadvantages, Isaac said.  

The JF-17 has already been evaluated by the Argentine delegation. However, China’s ability to provide logistical support for the aircraft remains unknown. The F-16 is a proven platform, but its refueling system is incompatible with refueling pods on the KC-130 Hercules used by the FAA.  

Meanwhile, the Tejas contains British-made components and thus falls under sanctions. However, according to Isaac, India assured that the components can be replaced with non-British alternatives.  

Supersonic challenge  

Argentina has been struggling to upgrade its fleet of combat aircraft for more than three decades. Following the Falklands War, the United Kingdom vetoed Argentina’s purchase of aircraft with British-made components, including the South Korean KAI FA-50 and Israeli IAI Kfir among others. 

With a once-capable domestic aircraft industry in ruins, Argentina was left with an air force composed of deteriorating old jets and no possibility to upgrade it.  

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In 2021 the country renewed its efforts and began discussions with China’s Chengdu Aerospace Corporation regarding the purchase of the Chinese-Pakistani JF-17.  

The aircraft was mentioned as a possible candidate in Argentina’s defense budget draft, which led many to believe that the discussions ended in an agreement and an order.   

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Argentine Defense Ministry published a statement denying previous claims that the country has selected the JF-17 as its next fighter jet.
 

According to Isaac’s interview with Infodefensa.com, the FAA is likely to announce its choice before the end of 2022, but not before evaluating the Tejas and the F-16.