Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is expected to sign agreements with China to increase military co-operation, including construction of new warships for the Argentine Navy, during her current state visit to Beijing, according to media reports and Jane's Defense Weekly.
The expanded level of Argentine-Chinese military co-operation, which has been about a year in preparation, follows the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on 29 October 2014 by an Argentine-Chinese Joint Committee on Co-operation in the Field of Defense Technology and Industry. The actual joint development programs were finalized during a visit by a Chinese defense trade delegation to Buenos Aires in late January.
Argentine reports indicate the agreement to be signed in Beijing could cover co-production in Argentina of the Norinco VN1 wheeled armored personnel carrier (APC) and co-operation in building a new ice-breaker, naval tugboats, mobile hospitals, and new warships for the Argentine Navy.
In late 2014 the Argentine government reportedly accepted a Chinese offer to meet its long-standing requirement for a new class of offshore patrol vessel. Over the last decade Argentina has considered purchasing designs from Brazil, Germany, and Spain, but China has reportedly succeeded in selling a more capable warship: a version of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation's (CSIC) P18 export corvette.
Somewhat controversially, this vessel will be known as the Malvinas class, after the Argentine name for the Falkland Islands. Two P18N corvettes were sold to Nigeria in 2012 for 42 million dollars each. The 'Malvinas class' version is in the range of 50 million dollars.
According to Brazilian web magazine Naval Power, an initial Argentine contract may include two ships built in China and three co-produced in Argentina.
The P18 corvette displaces 1,800 tons, is 95 m long, 12 m wide, and is powered by two German-designed MTU 20V 4000M diesel engines to achieve a speed of 25 kt. It can be armed with a 76 mm main gun, two 30 mm cannons, up to eight anti-ship missiles, two triple torpedo launchers, and can carry one medium-sized helicopter.
Naval Power reported that Argentina has requested a larger flight deck to handle its 10-ton Sea King helicopters and a towed sonar to increase its anti-submarine capability. Delivery of the Argentine P18s could start in 2017.
Reports from mid-2014 indicate the Argentine Army evaluated the Norinco VN1 8x8 amphibious APC, considering its 21-tonne infantry fighting vehicle variant along with 105 mm gun- and 120 mm mortar-armed versions. Argentina could acquire up to 110 VN1s, according to Naval Power.
Venezuela's marines took delivery of the region's first VN1s at the end of December 2014.
According to Jane's Defense Weekly if the agreement is concluded, it could mark a major step in Argentina's long-standing effort to revive its military capabilities and would constitute a major success for China's 15-year endeavor to expand its military influence and market share in Latin America.
Since the 1982 Falklands War, China has expressed its support for Argentina's continued claims over the Falklands, which Beijing compares to its claim over Taiwan. However, China's willingness to accept commodity payments to finance initial loans that fund military sales has been key to its military sales success in Argentina.
In 2011 the Fábrica Argentina de Aviones (Argentine Aircraft Factory: FAdeA) reached an agreement to start co-producing China's Changhe Z-11 light helicopter. Then, in June 2013, FAdeA sources told IHS Jane's that talks over co-production of the Chengdu FC-1 lightweight jet fighter had occurred over the previous two years.
This option appears to have been lost as Argentina has tried and failed to purchase retired Dassault Mirage F1 fighters from Spain, then refurbished Israeli Aircraft Industry Kfir fighters and, in late 2014, Saab Gripen fighters co-produced in Brazil.
However, the new Argentine-Chinese defense agreement could revive prospects for combat aircraft co-operation. In addition to the FC-1 fighter, China could offer low-cost combat-capable supersonic lead-in trainers like the Guizhou JL-9G/FTC-2000G or the Hongdu L-15.