China has emerged as a possible supplier of jet fighters to help modernize the Argentine Air Force, depleted since the 1982 Falklands' war, according to reports from Defense News. In effect the FC-1/JF-17’s, 'Thunder' operational with the Pakistani air force and proven in combat could be a suitable, accessible option for the Argentines after the Spanish, French, Israeli offers seem to have fallen through.
Another competitor, Brazil with the Swedish Grippen to be assembled and later manufactured in Sao Paulo has been dropped since 30% of the aircraft components are British made and London would object to any such sale that could threaten Falklands' defenses.
There is also the Russian option, even when the Argentine Air Force prefers Western aircraft. A Russian solution would be financially convenient for cash-strapped Argentina, as President Vladimir Putin, who made an official visit to Buenos Aires last September, offered to accept beef, wheat and other food goods as payment for military equipment.
However analysts such as author and former air commodore Kaiser Tufail said China’s FC-1/JF-17 is well-suited to Argentina’s operational requirements when considering acquisition and operating costs, as well as an increasing range of advanced weaponry.
“I believe that, given Argentina’s serious financial troubles, the FC-1/JF-17 would be just the right choice,” he said. “Despite the aircraft being short-legged, it is cheap and can be bought in large numbers.”
Similarly, analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank said Argentina’s occasionally difficult relations with Western nations and inability to modernize its airpower since 1982 means the FC-1/JF-17 should be all the more attractive.
“Argentina’s Air Force needs urgent replacements and FC-1/JF-17 very much fits the bill. It is more or less embargo free since it has almost zero parts involved from Western nations/NATO member states,” he said.
According to Defense News, Chinese officials reportedly offered the FC-1 to Argentina last year at the Paris Air Show, and even offered an option of local assembly, but the Argentines were apparently more tempted by offers of surplus Mirage F-1s from France and Spain respectively, and also an Israeli offer of Kfir Block 60s, before these options fell out of favor.
Argentina has a growing defense relationship with China that has seen it start to co-produce the Changhe Z-11, the CZ-11 Pampero, which is based on the Eurocopter A350 Ecureuil (Squirrel).
The CZ-11 program is part of Argentina’s bid to build up its aviation industry, therefore the offer of local production of the FC-1/JF-17 could still be tempting.
“I’m not sure what the base line of the local production capacity is, but this might be one of the avenues to have Argentina buy this aircraft. China has been very impressive with the line of weapons it has tabled in the past few years and it might just be able to fulfill all of Argentina’s requirements,” Khan said.
However, notwithstanding the FC-1/JF-17’s merits vis-á-vis Argentina’s operational requirements and its low operating costs, and despite China being Argentina’s second largest trading partner, plus its support for Argentina’s claim over the Falkland Islands, analysts acknowledge politics may yet impede a deal, especially considering the strength of an alternative Russian offer.
In effect, Brian Cloughley, former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, believes the Russians may win.
“The FC-1/JF-17 is an excellent system, and Argentina could do worse than equip its Air Force accordingly, but the devil is in the detail, and given Russia’s concentration on expanding its trade and general economic cooperation with South American nations, it is likely that Moscow could offer a very good deal involving provision of Flankers.”
Nevertheless, Tufail does not think that purchasing Russian aircraft, such as members of the Flanker family, would be of much practical benefit to Argentina.
“Russian fighters would most certainly be unaffordable in large numbers and would merely be showpieces,” he said. “Also going in favor of the FC-1/JF-17 is the demonstrated operational status with an important air force like the [Pakistani Air Force].
“A BVR weapons fit would be an irresistible icing on the package,” he added, referencing the SD-10A beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile currently arming Pakistani JF-17s.
Given the efforts the British have put into denying Argentina advanced aircraft, Cloughley, who started his military career in the British Army, said Britain’s diplomatic efforts to deny Argentina the chance to modernize its airpower may have backfired by pushing it into the arms of China and Russia.