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JF-17 Row: Has Argentina Put Thunder Fighter Jets On Backburner As It Negotiates Exclusive Military Deal With Russia?

Argentina’s search for a budget-friendly fighter jet initially took it to narrow down on five sellers: China, Israel, Russia, South Korea, and the US. Despite the prominent view being that China / Pakistan’s JF-17 was the frontrunner, there is are indications that Argentina could ink a military deal with Russia.

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Ever since retiring its Dassault Mirage III interceptor fleet in 2015, the Argentinian Air Force, Fuerza Aérea Argentina (FAA), has been looking for a new supersonic aircraft.

The UK has proved to be a significant hurdle in this endeavor, though. Ever since the 1982 Falklands War, Britain has maintained an arms embargo on Argentina. Several attempts by the South American nation to acquire aircraft have failed due to British pressure.

The JF-17 Controversy

In the midst of this, the JF-17 Thunder, a multi-role combat aircraft jointly developed by China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) seemed to have come to the rescue.

The aircraft made headlines when Pakistan Strategic Forum (PSF), an Islamabad-based think tank, stated, “the Government of the Argentine Republic has officially included funding for the purchase of 12 PAC JF-17 A Block III fighters in a draft budget for 2022 presented to Argentina’s Parliament.

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The funding requests $664 million for the purchase of 12 JF-17s from Pakistan. The Argentine Air Force has chosen Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder, discarding offers from Russia, the USA, and India”.

A Pakistan Air Force JF-17 Thunder. (Wikipedia)

The Pakistani Consulate General in Jeddah later tweeted, “Argentina has officially earmarked $664 million in its next year’s budget for the purchase of 12 JF-17 Block-III fighter jets from Pakistan”.

However, the Argentine Defence Ministry issued a statement on September 21 denying these claims regarding the procurement of the aircraft.

It said, “the Defense Ministry informs that, by means of Public Credit Operations Authorization note, it has requested the inclusion of the authorization to manage a credit of up to $664 million for the acquisition of multipurpose fighter aircraft for the surveillance and control of airspace into the 2022 budget”.

Procurement Hurdles

Britain has been blocking exports of aircraft to Argentina by placing embargoes on components of aircraft that belong to the UK. It pressured Spain to ditch a deal to supply surplus Mirage F1M fighters to its neighbor.

A deal for Israeli Kfir jets also seems to have fallen apart due to Britain’s pressure as well as US control of the aircraft’s J79 engines. In addition, the UK essentially vetoed the export of Brazilian-license-built Swedish JAS Gripen and the South Korean KAI FA-50 Fighting Eagle.

Dassault Super Etendard Modernise. (Wikipedia)

Even Argentina’s attempt to procure five French Dassault Super Etendard Modernise jets was rebuffed due to a Britain-levied arms embargo over the Martin Baker-manufactured MK6 ejection seat used in the aircraft. This resulted in the cancellation of the potential deal.

The multitude of canceled deals has left Argentina, whose neighbors Chile and Brazil are much better equipped with fighter planes, in a bind. The Brazilian Air Force is even set to receive 36 Saab Gripen E fighters, which will be assembled in part in the country itself.

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What Are US, Russia Are Offering?

Andrei Serbin Pont, a former adviser at the country’s Strategic Affairs Secretariat and the director of Argentinean think tank CRIES told Defense News that “the United States is making a push offering used F-16s, and another alternative being put on the table are modernized F/A-18s.” Both these aircraft are quite evenly matched multi-role fighters.

Sukhoi Su-30SM – Wikipedia

On the other hand, the US’ archrival Russia had already started talks about the aircraft during Mauricio Macri’s presidency. It also approached the Argentine government to offer military planes for the air force in January this year.

A meeting between Dmitry V. Feoktistov, the Russian ambassador to Argentina, and Major Brigadier Xavier Isaac, the commander of the Argentine Air Force (FAA), has been cited in this context.

A US Navy F/A 18 Super Hornet.

According to the Russian embassy’s statement, the meeting addressed “prospects for bilateral technical-military cooperation between the two nations.”

Argentina, Russia Military Deals

In previous negotiations, the FAA had reportedly requested two batches – one comprising 15 MiG-29 fighters and the other comprising Su-30 fighters with 12 units. It is believed that the Russians are still trying to pitch the Yak-130 training jet as well as the Mil Mi-17 helicopters.

Recently, Argentina and Russia are discussing Buenos Aires’ potential procurement of a new batch of Mi-171E transport helicopters, Argentinian ambassador Eduardo Zuain said in an interview with Sputnik. Argentina currently uses two Mi-171E helicopters in its Antarctic exploration program.

File Image: Mil Mi-171E at the MAKS-2011 – Wikipedia

“Argentina has recently appointed a new defense minister. We will send him reports on our agenda with Russia, which certainly includes the issue of the helicopter. As I have already said, our defense ministries are discussing it. I have no information right now but I know that the topic of helicopters is on the agenda,” Zuain said.

These reports have not yet been verified by the official authorities concerned.

Meanwhile, Argentina is also exploring the possibility of requesting a Russian loan for the implementation of joint defense projects (which experts say could include fighter aircraft), ambassador Zuain said.

“This is also being analyzed. These are just negotiations necessary for implementing the projects. Talks about defense or scientific and technical cooperation always involve the topic of financing. These are not two separate issues, as all the projects are related to financing,” Zuain said, when asked if Buenos Aires plans to ask Russia to provide it with a loan for projects implementation.

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Argentina appreciates Russia’s defense capabilities and sees the country as a “leader,” but the financial aspect of cooperation is important, the diplomat emphasized. The two countries’ defense ministries maintain regular consultations on defense cooperation, Zuain added, noting that he is unaware of details.

Russia’s ambassador to Argentina, Dmitry Feoktistov, told reporters early this winter that Buenos Aires is interested in joint projects that would provide for partial production localization.

Brazil-based defense analyst Alex Galante was quoted by Defense News as saying that he believes that although “the Argentine government has a preference for the JF-17″, it might be “awaiting a better offer from the US or Russia.”

Both these countries are free from the impositions of the UK and have been much more established players in the aircraft export arena in comparison to China.

  • Nitin holds a double master’s degree in Journalism and Business Management (MBA) from The University of Glasgow, UK. He has over 15 years of global experience in Marketing & Communications, Journalism, and Digital Marketing and widely worked & traveled across Europe, the Americas and Asia. CONTACT: Nytten@gmail.com 
  • Co-authored By Shreya Mundhra/EurAsian Times Desk
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