Military Aviation

Biden Administration notifies Congress on potential sale of 38 F-16s to Argentina in a move aimed at countering the JF-17 fighter jets offered by China

The proposed arms package includes the sale of up to 38 F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets from Denmark and four P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft from Norway.

In a move aimed at bolstering Argentina military capabilities, the US Congress was notified in July of the potential transfer of crucial defense equipment to the South American nation.

The proposed arms package includes the sale of up to 38 F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets from Denmark and four P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft from Norway.

As reported by Alert 5, the notification from the Department of State to Congress highlights the strategic importance of this transfer, emphasizing the consideration of political, military, economic, human rights, and arms control factors. The deal aims to address Argentina’s ongoing efforts to modernize its air force and navy and is valued approximately $338.7 million for the F-16s and $108.4 million for the P-3s.

The former Royal Danish Air Force’s F-16 aircraft are from two batches, with up to six Block 10 fighters and up to 32 aircraft of the Block 15 variant set to be transferred. These F-16s still hold significant capabilities and will provide Argentina with a substantial upgrade to its air combat fleet even though they are older variants of the Viper.

The P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft from Norway (that include one with anti-submarine warfare capabilities) will enhance Argentina’s maritime surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, allowing it to better safeguard its territorial waters and counter potential submarine threats.

The timing of this approval comes as Argentina seeks to replace its aging fleet of fighters and P-3B patrol aircraft. The US Congress’ green light will mark a crucial step toward enabling the purchase and subsequent deployment of these advanced military assets.

A diamond formation of nine F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from Squadrons 727 and 730, Fighter Wing Skrydstrup, Royal Danish Air Force on a display flight at Danish Air Show 2014. 

The Argentinian defense ministry has allocated US$664 million to acquire 12 new fighter jets in September 2021. With the UK putting an arms embargo in place against Argentina, the choices for it have been reduced to Russian-built MiG-29 and MiG-35, China-Pakistan-built JF-17, and Indian-made LCA Tejas.

According to Buenos Aires Times, “The White House has once again pressured Congress to approve the sale of 24 F-16 fighter jets to Argentina, which has not yet decided whether to buy the China/Pakistan-made JF 17 Thunder or the Indian-made HAL Tejas.”

The urgency of the US to seal the aircraft deal with Argentina is aimed at countering the proposal for the JF-17s produced by China and Pakistan, which comprises fewer units (15) but are new and offer the possibility of ordering a second and third batch.

Military sources told to La Nación newspaper;

“Currently, they are considering the second-hand Lockheed Martin F-16A/B Fighting Falcon, operated by Denmark – originally from the US model, although they were manufactured between the Netherlands and Belgium in the ’80s – and the Chengdu JF-17 Thunder Block III offered by China.”

The Sino-Pakistani origin aircraft are equipped with Chinese engines, unlike the versions operated by Myanmar and Nigeria, which are powered by Russian engines.

The military sources added that the MiG-35 proposed by Russia was initially ruled out, and the armed forces see little chance for the Indian HAL Tejas.

Royal Norwegian Air Force P-3 Orion

However, one thing is sure: the US will do everything possible to prevent Argentina from buying Chinese or Russian defense material, so as not to allow the establishment of military relations with its geopolitical opponents in the region.

As already reported, the Argentine Air Force (FAA) has been searching for a new supersonic fighter aircraft since when the Dassault Mirage III interceptor fleet was retired in 2015. Its current operational inventory includes at least 10 A-4 fighter bombers flanked by armed IA-63 Pampa jet trainers.

Last year, deputies of PRO (opposition party to the current Government) made the following diagnosis before asking questions to the Chief of Cabinet about the future incorporation of a supersonic fighter for the FAA:

“At present, only a handful of A-4AR aircraft are in limited operational conditions. The aforementioned complement is not even a deterrent, much less sufficient to guarantee the integrity of the vast national territory.”

The UK is the biggest hurdle: in the last years in fact Argentina tried to purchase JAS-39 Gripen fighters from Sweden and KAI FA-50 Fighting Eagle jets from South Korea but since these aircraft use British equipment such as ejection seats built by Martin Baker, the UK blocked both the options.

The same may happen to the Tejas because of the British manufactured parts in the aircraft.

According to Janes, other potential solutions that have been reported included surplus Spanish Mirage F1s and Tranche 1 Eurofighter Typhoons, Leonardo M-346FA/FTs, CAC J-10s, and Aero L-159s. Even the Sukhoi Su-24 ‘Fencer’ (although this is widely believed to have been a hoax) and the new Sukhoi Checkmate were touted.

Pakistan Air Force JF-17

Photo: Peng Chen – Flickr: Pakistan airforce FC-1 Xiao Long, Slaunger Own Work and Mark Harkin via Wikipedia

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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