In an interesting development, the Argentine Air Force is making moves to purchase a total of fourteen JF-17s Block III multirole fighter aircraft from Pakistan. The prospective purchase came to light when the Argentine government included funding in its draft budget for 2022 for the acquisition of the aircraft. According to said budget, the amount of US$664 million is to be set aside to buy twelve JF-17 Block III single seaters and two dual seat fighters.
The move, if it goes ahead, will be welcome news for the Argentine Air Force. This force has been in stagnation for decades, a product of both Argentine economic woes and an embargo on British supplied components. This embargo has been in place, on and off, since the Falklands War of 1982, which saw Britain and Argentina fight a brief war over the disputed islands.
But the consequence is that the Argentine Air Force has seen practically every attempt in the last thirty years or so to buy new aircraft stymied by either the embargo or political pressure. This culminated in the British blocking the attempted purchase of South Korean FA/50 light fighters in late 2020.
I’m not going to go into all the details here, if you are interested in knowing more about this incident and the previous attempts to buy updated fighters by the Argentines, see my previous article.
But, needless to say, this left the Argentines in a quandary.
Their air force has basically withered to complete ineffectiveness as the few aircraft on hand have aged and been grounded for safety reasons. They needed new aircraft, capable but ideally not expensive. They also needed to take political considerations into account.
This meant that Chinese and Russian aircraft, while not totally discounted as a possibility, would create additional issues with the United States.
But now, in the JF-17, they seem to have found an acceptable compromise.
The JF-17 Block III, which again I have an article on, is an interesting solution.
Built jointly by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation of China, this aircraft has a modern avionics suite and is capable of being equipped with an active electronically scanned radar.
The Block III is capable of carrying the latest Chinese made air to air missiles, such as the active-homing PL-12 Beyond Visual Range missiles, as well as PL-9 heat seekers. It also can carry a range of air-to-ground ordnance, as well as anti-shipping missiles – which will no doubt be the thing catching the eye of the British.
Of course, just because it can carry these weapons, doesn’t mean that the Argentines will buy them. One of the problems that the Argentine Air Force had with Chinese and Russian aircraft was that their entire logistics base is built around Western standard systems.
And this may also explain the logic of the JF-17 selection. Pakistan has a very long history of integrating western technologies into Chinese airframes, producing capable aircraft at discount costs.
No doubt should the purchase go ahead then the Argentine JF-17s will be built to use Argentina’s existing weapon stockpiles, principally American-supplied bombs and missiles. However, though this will likely be the case, the fact remains that the acquisition will open the possibility to the Argentines finally operating modern weapon systems – of Chinese origin.
It will certainly mark a substantial improvement in the capabilities of the Argentine Air Force, finally giving them a modern multirole aircraft comparable to some of their neighbours.
Of course, fourteen aircraft is not going to disrupt the current military balance in the region.
It is just the first step to Argentina rebuilding their air force to a standard more in line with other countries in the region. But no doubt it will be of interest to those afore-mentioned neighbours, the British and the United States.
While pan-South American unity is loudly trumpeted, history tends to show that relations between the nations of the continent can be rather tidal.
The British, who still maintain substantial defensive forces on the Falkland’s, will be watching for obvious reason.
And the United States will be concerned about Chinese encroachment on an area that, traditionally, they have not been keen on other foreign powers getting a foothold in.
Because though the JF-17 are being supplied by Pakistan, 42% of the aircraft is made in China. If the Argentines gradually begin to switch to Chinese components and weaponry, with the JF-17 offering the perfect opportunity to do just that, this opens the door to their next military acquisition being of fully Chinese design and make.
And that might just be something the US isn’t keen on – which would leave them with the problem of how to counteract Chinese influence from arms sales that Argentina wants to update their military while not straining their relationship with Britain.
Argentina to purchase JF-17 ‘Thunder’ jets from Pakistan – UK Defence Journal