India is trying to ‘screw up’ the sale of US F-16s to Argentina

The United States is expeditiously orchestrating its efforts to pave the way for the potential provision of Danish F-16 A fighter jets to the Argentinian Air Force. However, in the face of this rapidly developing scenario, India appears to be maintaining a strategic reserve, unwilling to capitulate without a fight over their Light Combat Aircraft [LCA] Tejas. To this effect, they are wielding their full diplomatic prowess in defense of their sale.

Tejas - India is trying to 'screw up' the sale of US F-16s to Argentina
Photo credit: Indian MoD

It is the gravitas of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs [MEA] that underwrites these sales. The negotiations, steered by the astute Indian Ambassador, Dinesh Bhatia, have reached a critical juncture. Rather than relying on mere hopes, we at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited [HAL] believe in the power of action, a high-ranking official from HAL revealed to the EurAsian Times, under the condition of anonymity.

Residing in the realm of India’s public sector, the HAL stands as a prominent manufacturer, famed for its production of the indigenous single-engine fighter jet, affectionately named Tejas, translating to ‘Brilliance’. This notable piece of aerial machinery, which has been under meticulous construction since the epoch of the 1980s, has now successfully integrated itself into the esteemed ranks of the Indian Air Force [IAF]. This development has paved the way for the Tejas to serve as a worthy successor to the aging fleet of the Soviet-era MiG-21s. The final unit of the MiG-21 is anticipated to gracefully retire from service by the year 2025.

In a noteworthy development chronicled by the EurAsian Times, July 2023 saw the Argentinian Defense Minister Taiana and the Secretary of International Affairs for Defense Francisco Cafiero embark on a diplomatic expedition to India. Their visit was not limited to a formal meeting with their Indian counterpart, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, but extended to an exploratory tour of Indian defense companies. The primary intent of their visit was to investigate the potential acquisition of LCA Tejas and BrahMos, two of India’s most advanced defense technologies.

In the wake of the retirement of its 16 Dassault Mirage III fighter jets in 2015, the Argentine Air Force has been fervently pursuing avenues to replenish its diminished capabilities. Presently, its operational arsenal encompasses no less than 10 A-4 fighter bombers, which are fortified by the IA-63 Pampa jet trainer supplements.

In a significant development from the Argentinian defense ministry, a considerable sum of US$664 million has been earmarked for the procurement of 12 advanced fighter jets in September 2021. The British government’s imposition of an arms embargo on Argentina has rather narrowed the nation’s options for this acquisition. Consequently, Argentina now contemplates a choice between the Russian-engineered MiG-29 and MiG-35, the JF-17, a joint venture of China and Pakistan, and the LCA Tejas, a product of Indian defense manufacturing.

Is the LCA Tejas capable of defying the British embargo?

Thorny path: Tejas Mk2 fighter will be liked but no one will buy it at first
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Argentinian aviators have previously experienced the flight of LCA Tejas, an advanced, lightweight combat aircraft. Despite this, Argentina has discerned 16 components of British origin embedded within the aircraft that are subject to an existing embargo. This revelation has the potential to destabilize the entire deal. The Argentine officials have accordingly requested the Indian counterparts to explore possible substitutes for these contentious components. One prominent example of these British-manufactured parts is the Martin-Baker ejection seat, a critical safety feature in the LCA Tejas.

It is unmistakable that the Indian government is acutely cognizant of the profound influence that the British administration wields in the realm of fighter jet transactions, a consequence of their dominant stake in the global market for aircraft ejection seats.

Various nations have incorporated Martin Baker’s ejection seats into their aircraft. The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited [HAL], however, is currently engaged in an ambitious initiative to develop an indigenous aircraft ejection seat. This endeavor is seen as a strategic move to bypass the imposed British embargo.

In the past, London’s diplomatic influence has effectively prevented any transactions involving American or European aircraft, such as the substitute Mirages, Swedish JAS Gripens, Israeli Aircraft Industries Kfirs, and Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50 light fighters. This British embargo has uniquely positioned the Chinese, who remain unencumbered by such restrictions, to consider Argentina as a potential client.

In an effort to curb the escalating Chinese influence in its geopolitical sphere, the Biden Administration has approached Congress for authorization to facilitate the sale of pre-owned F-16 fighter jets from Denmark to Argentina.

In an attempt to make the transaction more enticing, Washington has proposed to include four of Lockheed Martin’s P-3 Orion turboprop anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft in the deal. The inclusion of these sophisticated aircraft, however, has instilled apprehension, as it could potentially signify the cessation of Argentina’s interest in the Light Combat Aircraft [LCA].

An official from HAL issued a sobering warning, stating, “If the Argentine populace harbors aspirations for the acquisition of second-hand aircraft, it should be noted that older Tejas models would constitute a mere fraction of the cost of F-16s. However, it is imperative to consider that the comprehensive cost of ownership associated with Second-Hand Aircraft invariably surpasses that of their newer counterparts.”

Unexpected turn: Pakistani JF-17s replace Iraq's aging F-16 fleet
Photo credit: PAF

Engaged in a strategic endeavor to modernize its fleet, Copenhagen has embarked on a mission to supplant its aging squadron of 33 F-16As with Lockheed Martin’s technologically advanced F-35A fifth-generation fighters. Informed by Lockheed’s reports, it can be discerned that Denmark has set an ambitious objective of procuring 27 such F-35s to bolster its air defense capabilities. Concurrently, it is anticipated that Denmark, in an act of geopolitical significance, will redirect its F-16s to Ukraine.

“The journey with LCA has merely initiated. Utterances such as ‘the end of the road’ are unequivocally out of place in this context,” he further elucidated.

The United States is striving with keen intensity to finalize their aircraft agreement with Argentina. This effort is primarily spurred by the desire to counter the offer of JF-17s, jointly produced by China and Pakistan. Although the proposed fleet is smaller, consisting of a mere fifteen units, the fact that these aircraft are new and come with the potential for further orders in subsequent batches, lends them a certain appeal. This development was detailed in a report by local Argentinian media.

According to the erudition of FAD experts, the F-16 emerges as a superior aircraft in terms of technical specifications, outmatching the JF-17 with its enhanced firepower and formidable weapons capacity. Despite this, it harbors a significant design flaw in the form of a low-positioned engine intake port. This positioning predisposes the port to ingest a considerable amount of foreign objects, a detail that consequently necessitates substantial investment to upgrade airport infrastructures.

Defense Minister Jorge Taiana was reported to have stated, “It is anticipated that by the close of the current year, a comprehensive examination of all submitted proposals will have been conducted.” He further expounded, “This pivotal decision requires a multifaceted consideration which goes beyond the technical specifications and the caliber of the aircraft’s weaponry. Factors such as financing arrangements and delivery schedules also bear significant weight. Hence, these are political decisions of such magnitude that they necessitate deliberation at the highest echelons, specifically by the President of the Republic.”

Comparative analysis: F-16 and Tejas

One of the most salient distinctions between the two aircraft lies in their respective stages of development. The F-16 Fighting Falcon, with its extensive experience in warfare, can be characterized as a seasoned combatant. On the other hand, the Tejas is just embarking on its journey in the aviation world.

While the United States Air Force [USAF] has ceased their acquisition of Fighting Falcons, the Indian Air Force [IAF] is bolstering its arsenal in a contrasting manner. Currently, the IAF is equipped with two squadrons of LCA Tejas. Furthermore, it is poised to initiate the induction process of the LCA MK1A variant, marking a significant addition to its fleet, in the first quarter of 2024.

It is anticipated that, by the year 2029, the deliveries of the 83 units of the LCA MK1A variant, which notably includes ten trainer aircraft, will be fully completed.

In contrast, the US F-16 multirole fighter stands as one of the most successful and widely deployed combat aircraft globally. It boasts an impressive record with 4600 operational units in service, dispersed across more than 25 countries.

In Norway, 12 deeply modernized combat-ready F-16s are aging
Photo by Eirik Helland Urke

Originating as lightweight fighter programs within their native nations, the F-16 and LCA represent significant advancements in military aviation. From a technical perspective, the LCA’s design is notably more compact and lightweight compared to the F-16, a distinction clearly observable in an overhead view. However, the F-16 demonstrates superior capabilities in terms of operational range, outperforming the LCA in this critical aspect.

The United States has formally requested the United Kingdom to repeal its current embargo, a strategic move designed to enable the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Argentina. An all-important query that persists in this context is whether this potential agreement would also encompass the provision of future spare parts for these aircraft. 

In a contrasting scenario, the Tejas aircraft, a formidable force in aerial warfare, is projected to be the cornerstone of the Indian Air Force’s [IAF] arsenal for the forthcoming decades. It is anticipated that the operational deployment of this advanced aircraft will experience a significant augmentation in the near future.

It has been reported that the deployment of Tejas in the northern sector is impending, a strategic move that could see it pitted against Pakistan’s F-16s and the China-Pakistan Joint Venture JF-17 in the event of a conflict among these nations. The stakes are high in this high-tension region, and the impending deployment of Tejas is a clear indication of the escalating geopolitical dynamics.

With a clear vision of bolstering its air power, India is actively engaged in the evolution of the LCA Mk2, a formidable multirole aircraft. This advanced version boasts of enhanced capabilities and potency, significantly surpassing its predecessors in terms of performance. The primary intent behind this development is to phase out the aging fleet of western-origin combat aircraft, namely the Jaguar and Mirage-2000, as well as the Russian-origin MiG-29s.


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