F-16 or JF-17 for Argentina: a devilish tango with American patience

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — Argentina is dancing a devilish tango with the US’s patience, according to some media outlets. According to others, Buenos Aires is simply looking for a way to renew its air force. A cornered Argentina could make a move that would not be in the US’s interest.

Pakistani JF-17A defeated MiG-35 in a passionate 'Argentine tango'
Photo credit: Twitter

Nearly a week and a half ago, threats flew from Washington to Buenos Aires. A Chinese fighter factory in Argentina is a very bad idea, said US Representative Maria Elvira Salazar. According to Salazar, Buenos Aires intends to install a JF-17 factory. She described these intentions as a “deal with the devil”.

Salazar claimed that the deal was already a fact and pointed out which Argentine senior politicians had concluded it. According to her, these are President Alberto Fernández and Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner [CFK]. The congresswoman from Florida continued the sharp threatening tone, stating that if Argentina installs an FJ-17 fighter jet factory “the consequences will be biblical.” Salazar said Washington will not allow this and will not stand idly by.

Casa Rosada

Argentina did not engage in rhetoric with the US congresswoman, nor did it go into explanatory mode. The office of the President of Argentina [Casa Rosada] simply echoed Salazar’s claims. The presidency reminded Washington that there is already a Chinese presence in Argentina – a facility in Neuquen province.

Buenos Aires says this Chinese facility is scientific and for peaceful purposes. But despite this claim, according to sources, the Argentine government does not have access to it. This raises a lot of questions and suspicions, about what exactly is “scientifically” being done at the Neuquen Chinese facility.

Casa Rosada wrote in its statement to Washington that Argentina has a factory to build combat aircraft. This is Fadea, which is a state-owned enterprise.

What does Argentina need?

The Argentine Air Force is not effective in today’s conditions. The equipment is old. In their inventory, the “gauchos” have long-obsolete American A-4 Fightinghawks and locally produced IA-63 Pampa light attack combat aircraft. Local fighters are used for training as well.

Argentina deployed Pampa III combat aircraft near the Falklands
Photo credit: FAA

Argentina had three options according to media reports: F-16 Fighting Falcon, JF-17 Thunder, and MiG-35 Fulcrum-F. For some reason, the Russian fighter suddenly stopped being commented on as an option. Only the American and Chinese representatives remained.

In recent months, however, the possibility of the F-16 being Buenos Aires’ chosen fighter has been increasingly discussed in the media. First – representatives of Lockheed Martin visited Argentina in February. Military personnel from Denmark also traveled with them, as Buenos Aires is believed to be interested in the Danish F-16s. If such a deal were to go through, Argentina would effectively acquire second-hand shooters. But if the advantages of the F-16 are based only on these facts, we should note that Argentine representatives of the Ministry of Defense also met with the Chinese manufacturers of the JF-17, and even got to know the production facilities.

The role of Great Britain

Until now, Argentina could not afford the acquisition of new fighter jets because of the arms embargo imposed by Great Britain as a result of the Falklands War. But the last three decades brought new combat aircraft manufacturers to the map – China, India, Pakistan [together with China], and South Korea. Even Turkey will soon join and break up the “monopoly house” of Russia, the USA, and France.

Jordan asked for 16 F-16 Block 70 fighters and 21 GE engines
Photo credit: Wikipedia

London can no longer stop the delivery of Western fighter jets to Buenos Aires. The Chinese JF-17 is the closest in terms of capabilities to the Argentinians – both because of the price and because of overcoming Western barriers. Although China’s JF-17 fighter jet uses a British ejection seat for the pilot, Beijing has several options to circumvent the deterrents and integrate its own seats. Such as are integrated into the J-20 for example.

That is why neither Argentina, the US, nor China has control over the situation with the Argentine fighter jets. It is London that has to decide what to do – to give the green light to the US and Denmark to supply F-16, ignoring the military embargo on Argentina, or to ensure Chinese influence in Latin America. This time, however, it will be bigger because Argentina will be able to not only produce budget-competitive fighters but also sell them in the region. Venezuela is just waiting for that.

Argentina is rising

Economically, Argentina is not in a glowing state. Therefore, the choice of fighters will have to be tailored to the purchase and maintenance budget. The second is even more important because if Buenos Aires “falls into the trap” of Washington, in the future the Yankees can leave Argentina without the support of their planes if Buenos Aires “does not follow the right policy.”

That’s why Buenos Aires took two moves that signal that Buenos Aires also has a say, at least when it comes to Argentina’s domestic politics. First – Argentina sent three of its IA-63 Pampa fighter aicraft near the Falkland Islands at the Rio Gallegos Military Air Base to increase the presence and military projection in the southern part of the territory.

Argentina deployed Pampa III combat aircraft near the Falklands
Photo credit: FAA

Second – immediately after increasing its military presence in the region [not only planes, troops, and equipment too] Buenos Aires took the next step – announced that it was withdrawing from the Foradori-Duncan agreement. This agreement defines the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.

Important decisions are to be made in Buenos Aires, Washington, and London this year. For there to be peace, apparently, London and Washington will have to make compromises. But Buenos Aires is the most important country in the “three-way dead end”. The question is whether Buenos Aires wants to compromise with the interests of the West.


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