The number three man in the Argentine Air Force refused to sign the purchase of 14 Israeli refurbished Kfir fighter jets, an operation involving 360 million dollars, and which supposedly would have given the depleted service a breath of fresh air.
According to a reconstruction by Clarin of the situation, which allegedly happened over a month ago, Brigadier Mario Roca argued that the fighters to be supplied by Israel did not have the weapons system and only six of them would be equipped with radars, so he refused to support the deal, which he explained to his commanding officer, Brigadier General Mario Callejo, and went home.
Allegedly Brigadier Roca was not dismissed or retired, as expected, but remained on call.
Argentine Defense minister Agustín Rossi gave another version of events particularly regarding the freezing of the purchase operation from the state run Israel Aerospace Industries, IAI, which also included the promotion and sale by IAI of Argentine manufactured jet trainers.
We have been working on the replacement of the decommissioned Mirages fighter jets since I took office. We have considered different offers: the US F16, Chinese fighters, Spanish F1 and the Israel proposal which was considered the most viable for technical and economic reasons. The 360m operation is for 14 aircraft and five-year maintenance, plus the commitment by IAI to promote the sale of our Pampa jets in different world markets. However we are not going to sign the contract, everything is ready for the next president to make the decision, explained Rossi.
Ambito Financiero, which is now the property of a close friend of the Kirchner family, added further spice to the operation. Apparently the contract included 30 Pampa III Argentine manufactured trainer jets, but according to opposition members in Congress, the Cordoba factory has yet to deliver its first Pampa to the Argentine Air Force which was scheduled to take place last March.
The Pampa III is a technological lie from president Cristina. She put the boys of La Campora in the factory and we know their incompetence, and this helps to understand Israel's resistance to the deal, said lawmaker Julio Martinez deputy chief of the Defense Committee in Congress.
Ambito Financiero had reported that the IAI contract would be signed before the presidential runoff on 22 November since an Israel delegation had arrived in Buenos Aires. Contracts were ready since September when president Cristina Fernandez signed decree 1775 with the needed funds for a first down payment of 60m dollars on signing the contract. The rest would be spread in several years and several annual budgets.
However last week the Kfir deal was frozen. Apparently the Argentine Air Force questioned several issues, for example the refurbished fighter's engine is a General Electric J79 and thus US approval is needed for the sale; besides the 800/1600 hours overhaul can only be done in Israel, so what about the technology transfer.
The whole deal, according to a 'non paper' involves 78 months but the first six fighters would be delivered at the end of the first 18 months, but with no weapons' system. Of the 14, two are two-seat trainers.
A strategic decision of this level must be decided by the incoming government, insists the 'non paper' which also recalls that the Kirchners step down from government leaving Argentina with no supersonic fighters and with an only Hercules C130 transport aircraft in flying conditions.