The Argentine Air Force may give new life to the Boeing CH-46 medium-lift helicopter, retired from service in the US Navy and Marine Corps.
On Sep. 15, 2023 Argentine Air Force chief Gen. Xavier Issac talked to local media and said that the service is interested in buying surplus CH-46s currently stored with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) in Arizona. As reported by Defense News, he added that the Argentine government has sent a letter of request to the US.
Issac said that not only a delegation would visit the 309th in the next few weeks to check the condition of available CH-46s, but he also hinted that contacts were signed with Columbia Helicopters, a US-based firm able to refurbish, upgrade and modify the helicopter type.
However, as an anonymous military source in Buenos Aires, told to Defense News “even when the potential procurement of surplus CH-46s is aimed to increased vertical lift capacities for a wide range of uses, the first priority would be to replace two Mil Mi-171Es, ordered in 2010 in a contract worth U.S. $26.5 million, and used since 2011 in support of Antarctic operations.”
Given Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine both Russian-made Mi-17 aircraft are grounded because maintenance scheduled in the country cannot take place, the source added.
“Sanctions applied to Russia made [it] impossible to send the helicopters there and even to transfer the payments,” the source explained.
Argentina gave up on the maintenance plans in Russia last month, according to the former’s Defense Ministry.
“The idea is to procure a first batch of four CH-46s, with follow-on orders aiming to add machines to achieve a strength of at least eight helicopters,” the source said. “Not only surplus machines in store are being sought, but also those currently operated by civilian firms that may be available.”
Luis Piñeiro, an independent defense analyst based in Buenos Aires, said that although it’s a “good idea” to buy refurbished CH-46s, “It looks unlikely that the current administration led by President Alberto Fernández, which is in its very last months in office, will manage to finalize it. [This] will be in the hands of the next government, to be elected on Oct. 22.”
The US Navy ordered another tandem-rotor design, the HRB (later designated CH-46) Sea Knight, featuring a rear cargo-loading ramp, a top speed of 166 M.P.H., and the ability to carry 4,000 lb. of cargo or 22 combat-equipped troops.
The CH-46D version of the Sea Knight, the helicopter affectionately known as the “Phrog” became a mainstay of the Vietnam War.
The CH-46 continued to serve the Marine Corps for the ensuing four decades with Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU) typically including Sea Knights on board amphibious assault ships to transport leathernecks ashore. The last version of the helicopter, the CH-46E, saw heavy combat service in the Global War on Terror in the sands of Iraq and the rugged terrain of Afghanistan.
While the Marine Corps, which retired its last CH-46Es in 2015, was the primary user of the Sea Knight, those in Navy markings performed a valuable function supporting deployments around the world. The last Navy CH-46s were retired from service in 2004.
Photo credit: kitmasterbloke via Wikipedia