The Argentine navy is not going through one of its great moments, not only because of the impounded flagship ARA Libertad in Ghana and the ARA Espora stranded in South Africa waiting for spares. The rest of the fleet is suffering the consequences of years of lack of maintenance and training with corvettes, destroyers and even submarines involved in mechanical and conducting incidents.
The corvettes ARA Spiro and ARA Gomez Roca and the destroyer Argentina experienced different breakdowns attributed to lack of maintenance and human error, according to sources from the Defence Committee of the Argentine Lower House.
Apparently naval experts believe that “the absence of conflict hypothesis and a scarce budget have led to a very week patrolling of the 200 miles economic exclusive zone, which impedes an active combat of illegal fishing”.
Three corvettes are deployed for that task, corvettes Drummond, Granville and Guerrico, which “hardly sail because of lack of resources for operational expenses”, added the sources.
Likewise these incidents are happening when the 2013 budget approved for the Navy means vessels will have lesser sailing time to patrol maritime and fluvial spaces. “Resources for next year are sufficient for 161 sailing and practice days compared to 329 days only two years ago”.
“It is clearly insufficient for the Navy’s 15 vessels that are currently on condition to operate” said lawmaker Julio Martinez from the opposition Radical party and member of the Defence Committee. Proper training demands at least 90 sailing days for each vessel, which means sufficient funds for “a period equivalent to 1.350 days sailing for the whole fleet”.
“The ARA Espora and the fellows on board would have avoided the bad moment they are going through in South Africa if the corvette Spiro, originally assigned for the Altasur naval exercise, had not suffered the accident of running into a sand bank when leaving Mar del Plata”, said Martinez. ARA Spiro has been on service since 1987 and was sent to the first Gulf War in 1990/91 by then president Carlos Menem.
Another vessel knocked out of action is the icebreaker Admiral Irizar when as a consequence of the 2007 fire in the engine room was virtually burnt down. The original timetable for her return has long gone by and now apparently she could be back towards the end of 2013. Over 100 million dollars have been spent on the vessel plus the cost of leasing the Russian icebreaker Vasily Golovnin for the annual three-month Antarctic campaigns at a monthly cost of 2 million dollars.
A similar situation is faced by the four destroyers: Almirante Brown, Heroína, La Argentina and Sarandí, with engine problems and they need spares, plus the fact all the ordnance has expired.
Of the six MEKO corvettes, ARA Parker and ARA Rosales are waiting for spares. ARA Gomez Roca and ARA Robinson are on duty for search and rescue operations, a duty sometimes passed on to the Coast Guard. Furthermore, two Fokker F-28s from the Navy are grounded since they have spares retained in Customs because of Argentine restrictions on imports.
However according to former Defence minister Horacio Jaunarena the situation is not different in the other services: the Mirage fighter-bombers are not flying since they are not safe enough for the pilots and in 2006 the Army informed then Defence minister Nilda Garré the force was in inferior conditions to neighbouring countries and thus “it was impossible to make compatible a common defence system in the region”.
Finally the submarine crews which operate from Mar del Plata need at least 190 days of immersion practice and in the last year only spent 19 hours submerged. Submarines Salta, Santa Cruz and San Juan have maintenance difficulties and “only few remember that in August 2010, Defence minister Nilda Garré announced Argentina was planning to build a nuclear submarine”, concluded lawmaker Martinez.