Debate on the next fighter for the Argentine Air Force

The offers from China, India and Denmark for the acquisition of combat aircraft were put under the magnifying glass of the director of Radar International: advantages, disadvantages and challenges of each of them, analyzed by Nicolás Promanzio

30 de August de 2023 17:25

The three alternatives in the portfolio, from the Argentine Ministry of Defense: the Danish F-16, the Chinese JF-17 Thunder or the Indian HAL Tejas.

Eight years ago, the Argentine Air Force retired the last Mirage combat aircraft after 43 years of service. Since then, neither the management of Kirchner, Macri nor Fernández have been able to resolve their replacement. Consequently, Argentina has been left without combat aircraft , backbone of any Air Force.

Argentina currently has IA-63 Pampa aircraft for training , IA-58 Pucará with few flight hours remaining and which would serve for ground attack and a few A-4AR Fightinghawk fighter-bombers . In all countries of the world, the defense of airspace is It is carried out with supersonic aircraft prepared and designed to confront other aircraft , and that is what Argentina urgently lacks.

It is in this context that the current management in the Ministry of Defense has filtered different alternatives for the acquisition of combat aircraft , leaving three of them negotiated to a greater or lesser extent: the Danish F-16 , the Chinese JF-17 Thunder or the HAL Texas Indians.

Below, Radar International provides an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of each of these alternatives . An important point to keep in mind before starting is that the Argentine Air Force has decided that the selection of the fighter will be made if it comes with the corresponding weaponry , which is an exclusive condition for the decision. It goes without saying that it is the responsibility of the State to make a decision in accordance with strategic and responsible planning , and not due to personal interests of the decision-makers .


JF-17 Thunder : the potential Chinese leading case

The alternative offered by China is the sale of 18 JF-17 Thunder Block III fighters , known in China as Chengdu FC-1 Xiaolong . These would have a cost of about 750 million over 10 years , financing without which it would be impossible to acquire this given alternative. the economic situation of the country. The initial offer of these aircraft would have been made for 12 copies, but it was extended to 18 after renegotiations following the American/Danish offer.

The JF-17 Thunder Block III is a single-engine fighter, equipped with a new engine produced in China called Guizhou WS-13B . Argentina will be part of the implementation of the new Chinese engine project, something that is being worked on in the Asian country for more than 10 years. The Chinese engine replaces the Russian engine currently used by the JF-17 Block I and II , and it is still unclear how it will work in practice.

This offer involves manufacturing these planes for Argentina , which means that they are modern from their birth and children of 21st century technology . It is an important bet for China to be able to export them to other countries, so the sale to Argentina would be an great leading case for them. This is why the conditions they offer are favorable.

In the world, only three countries outside of China have these aircraft in operation: Burma has five (four Block I and one Block II); Nigeria has three and Pakistan has 111 (49 Block I and 62 Block II).

In addition to the fact that the offer made by China does not include the participation of Pakistan, these aircraft do not contain components that are not of Chinese origin . The Block III variant offered would include a Chinese engine and ejection seat instead of those of external origin of the other versions.

As points in favor, this alternative has two main advantages for Argentina. On the one hand, Argentina would be allowed to intervene in the aircraft's systems in some way to incorporate improvements that interest the Argentine Air Force and modernize them .This would be favorable for an aircraft with a useful life of around 30 years and taking into account the INVAP radarization systems. On the other hand, China sells the aircraft with weapons, that is, with the complete weapons system , although without specifying what so complete since it is not known precisely what package they offer beyond PL-5 and PL-10 missiles.

Regarding this alternative, the main disadvantage lies in a central issue for the Argentine Air Force: constituting the backbone of aviation in a Chinese model would mean, in the medium and long term, having to integrate the rest of the systems and weapons around it. to this model . The cost of having to replace the rest of the systems in the future is enormous , and could generate many operational obstacles, even leaving the entire rest of the Air Force on the runway.

In turn, choosing to integrate the Argentine Air Force into Chinese systems could imply an enormous cost in relations with the United States , even more so taking into account that there is an offer of F-16s on more favorable conditions than the JF-17 . The Argentine Armed Forces need relations with Western countries to be able to access spare parts , without which planes, helicopters and ships, among others, could be rendered inoperable.

  Pakistan Air Force JF-17 Thunder

F-16 : the North American present

This alternative is for F-16 fighters of different generations , manufactured in the United States, but which are in the hands of the Royal Danish Air Force . The European country plans to replace 50 F-16 aircraft when the F-35 ordered arrive. United States , so they know they are going to stop using these planes. The United States plans as an option to transfer these aircraft to Argentina and modernize them .

Even though Denmark is retiring 50 F-16 fighters, the Argentine Air Force delegation that traveled to Denmark left the 14 planes with fewer remaining flight hours rejected. Of the other 36, 12 are MLU (Mid Life Upgrade) , which need an investment for their modernization, and 24 are under the "NATO standard", so they are in excellent maintenance conditions . For reference, these The latter have been modernized to a level higher than that of a Block 50. This is a very interesting level, although it is not known which NATO systems are going to be removed and delivered to Argentina .

To put it in perspective, if we acquired these fighters as they currently exist, we would be talking about F-16s in better condition than those Chile has , and at a level a little higher than the Brazilian Gripen .

To these 36 aircraft are added two other fighters that the Danes want to get rid of , leaving the offer that entered the United States Congress, where the sale must be approved, at “up to 38 combat aircraft.”

One factor to take into account is that this Sunday, August 20, the Prime Minister of Denmark said that her country would provide 19 F-16 fighters to Ukraine , a “show of unwavering support” that could affect Argentina. Of the 50 fighters that is about to replace Denmark, these 19 could be the 24 best available that Argentina is looking for, or the 14 rejected by the Argentine Air Force combined with some MLU . This is not yet publicly defined, and it is the United States that must seek to ensure that There are hunts for both .

On the topic of Ukraine, the reality is that there are many F-16 fighters in the world, but the Danish ones are the ones in the best condition and for sale . It should be noted that the delivery of F-16s to Ukraine would not bring down the supply. Danish, since there would be 31 fighters still available for sale to Argentina. Of these, if 12 are the “NATO standard”, the offer would still be under consideration.

The total cost is 338 million dollars , which has yet to be defined if it will have long-term financing through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. This would mean a reduced initial disbursement , to then pay the corresponding installments in subsequent years. This offer would include the simulators, the tools, the spare parts and the entire complete package , since Denmark seeks to get rid of the entire weapons system due to the economic, logistical and political cost of having the planes stored.

An important point to keep in mind is that the United States coordinates its policies with the British, so this sale of F-16 was decided taking into account the opinion of the United Kingdom on the matter , although the planes do not have British components.

Regarding weapons, Argentina is waiting for the United States Congress to approve the sale of the F-16 and, in turn, a list of the weapons authorized to be transferred with them . If they approve the sale of the plane without the weapons, this would be rejected by the Argentine Air Force.

It is important to keep in mind that, in the last 40 years, the United States has not sold weapons to Argentina , which is why this authorization could be a very strong political signal for Argentina. It is worth clarifying that it could take weeks or years before the decision is finally made.

Regarding this offer, the reality is that the Argentine Air Force does not expect to acquire more than 24 aircraft , since it does not have pilots or the budget to have 36 F-16 fighters in flight. The rest of the planes could be saved to use their spare parts or wait for the increase in the Air Force budget, although this is not yet clear.

Another hypothesis that arises after the possibility of sending 19 of the 24 Danish aircraft that Argentina is interested in to Ukraine is that the United States decides to send its own F-16s to Argentina . These would obviously not be in the same conditions as those from Denmark, Although for a possible new government it would be more convenient to receive the planes in the condition they are in to solve half of the problem and then invest in modernization here , as long as this is provided for in the agreement to facilitate it.

Royal Danish Air Force – F-16 Fighting Falcons


HAL Tejas : the Indian experiment

The offer has not yet been submitted from India, although Argentina has ordered 12 HAL Tejas Mk1A fighter aircraft . This option has a fundamental characteristic: it is still an experiment . These aircraft are part of an Indian project , so they have not yet been They have been built in series , added to the fact that India has no track record developing sophisticated combat aircraft.

A point that is considered an important disadvantage is that, for now, the Argentine Air Force would be the only customer of the Mk1A apart from the Indian Air Force (IAF), which only seeks to incorporate 83 of these aircraft . This could mean obtaining spare parts in the future.

India's interest is to focus on the Mk2 and for the Mk1A to be a transitional aircraft , so the IAF does not plan to give it a prominent role. This would leave Argentina in the future as the only operator of the Mk1A as a first-class combat aircraft. line in the future, an interesting but risky bet.

LSP-8 Tejas with inert Derby and R-73 missiles , Liteninxg pod and in-flight refueling probe. The underwing supports demonstrated significant aerodynamic resistance in supersonic flight, which is why they are being redesigned. Via


As described in the note, there are different aspects to take into account when making the decision to acquire new combat aircraft for the Argentine Air Force. Regarding these, Argentina has to decide on a specific and conditional offer in the inclusion of weapons for the fighter . In this context, the only offer that is ready to be signed is that of China.

Regarding the F-16 , with the approval of the United States Congress , the negotiation for weapons would only begin, so the agreement could not be finalized until the end of 2024, if everything is done in a timely manner. It is also important to take into account financing , which has not yet been defined in concrete terms.

Furthermore, it is pertinent to highlight that the acquisition of the fighters involves an analysis of the geopolitical alignment far beyond the plane itself . In this sense, the uncertainty surrounding the cost of allying militarily with China is latent . This issue would imply, for its inertia itself, a financial alignment with China to be able to extend the credit for this acquisition, added to the bill that the United States passes through the International Monetary Fund and other credit organizations. Crossing a red line of international politics can be very expensive.

Finally, it is essential to make a decision based on a medium and long-term geopolitical strategy . The articulation of defense policy in Argentina must have a clear horizon and decision-making in line with it, leaving aside the personal interest of the officials on duty.

The current government in Argentina has not shown political will to enforce the funds allocated by law for the reequipment of the Armed Forces, so a decision cannot be expected in the last months of its administration.This issue must be resolved by whoever takes office as of December 10, 2023.


International Radar

By Agenda Malvinas


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