F-16’s for Argentina?

August 1, 2023

The saga that is the Argentine Air Force’s attempts to buy modern fighter jets look set to take yet another turn. According to a report in the Buenos Aires Times the White House itself is asking Congress to authorize the sale of 24 Danish F-16A’s-and-B’s to the Argentine Air Force. This organization has been gradually degrading over several decades because of Argentina being under a British arms embargo after the 1982 Falklands War.

Pic: USAF

Why does a British arms embargo restrict Argentina’s fighter choices so much? Well, because most Western combat aircraft employ some British manufactured components somewhere in their design. And this has allowed the British government to stymie attempts by the Argentines to buy new fighters.

Long-term readers may remember some of coverage I’ve given this subject in the past, which included attempts to buy Mirage F1s from Spain, Israeli Kfirs and in 2020 the South Koreans announced that they had been blocked from selling F/A-50 light fighters because the aircraft contained British parts.

The situation for the Argentine Air Force has become essentially beyond critical, with the organization not having had anything close to a proper fighter for several years now. This is in sharp contrast to neighboring nations such as Chile, which operate the American F-16, and Brazil, who build Saab Gripen fighters under licence.

The Argentines had announced that because of the restrictions from the embargo they were forced to look at fighters that did not have British components – which essentially meant those of either Russian or Chinese origin. The Indian LCA fighter was also apparently favoured but again as this had some British components in its build the Argentines announced they couldn’t consider it unless alternatives were sourced and fitted.

Russia’s MIG-35 was swiftly excluded and in 2021 the Argentines announced that they were in talks on purchasing fourteen JF-17 Block III fighters. These aircraft are a Chinese design jointly produced between that country and Pakistan.

Pic: Pakistan Air Force

At the time it was recognized that this represented an aggravation for the United States. Traditionally touchy about its influence in South America, the US was bound to be wary of the Chinese getting a firm foothold in Argentine defence. After all, purchase of the JF-17 would entail the acquisition of other Chinese armaments to go along with them…which would probably start the beginning of greater Chinese sales of other armaments to the country and, as consequence, greater influence in the country.

So, if the Buenos Aires report is correct, it does seem that the White House is moving to head off the issue by offering the Argentines the ex-Danish F-16s, revitalizing their air defence forces and cutting the Chinese out.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the Argentines will go for it, though it seems like a reasonable enough deal. Figures are somewhat up-in-the-air but apparently the options are fifteen new JF-17s or the twenty-four older F-16s for a ballpark figure of $700 million. Naturally, the decision is now more about politics than defence requirements, but we shall watch to see what occurs.

And how about the Brits? Well, apparently they have been informed and are content for the deal to pass. I mean, they couldn’t actually stop it as the F-16 doesn’t have any British components in it.

But the F-16As, while no doubt a welcome leg up for the Argentine Air Force, are an older aircraft that likely doesn’t represent much of a threat to British security on the Falkland’s. Whereas the JF-17, especially if the Argentines were to buy modern anti-shipping missiles to go along with them, would present a far more concerning issue.

(Oh, and before anyone starts going on about Harpoons on the F-16, any such sale would require US permission and would almost certainly be vetoed.)

I do have one other observation about this whole deal if as said it is actually on the table. Back in June the Danes announced that they had were going to start training Ukrainian pilots on their F-16s and that they would retire these aircraft earlier than expected in 2025. The situation was read as that the Danes would supply the F-16s to Ukraine as military aid for their ongoing war with Russia.

Pic: USAF

But as the possible sale to Argentina would use practically all of the Danish Air Force’s existing fleet of F-16s, that would not be possible.

Of course, it is possible that the Danish F-16s, older models that they are, are recognized as being too vulnerable in the high-threat environment that they would face operating over Ukraine, and therefore only later block-number F-16s will be supplied if, indeed, any are ultimately sent to Ukraine at all. And certainly, it gives the US a useful option for offering to Argentina a tempting alternative to the Chinese JF-17.

So as said, we will watch and wait and see which way the chips fall.

Sources/Related:

Argentina Looking to Buy Pakistan JF-17 Fighters

UK Block on South Korean Jet Fighters Means Argentine Air Force Continues to Stagnate

The Argentine Commando Raid on Gibraltar – Operation Algeciras

The I.Ae. 24 Calquin; Argentina’s Derated Mosquito

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