The British press has picked on news from Spain and Argentina to state that the government of President Cristina Fernandez is about to sign an agreement to purchase refurbished Mirage F1 decommissioned by the Spanish Air Force, which could become potentially a major threat for the Falkland Islands and another reason for escalating the ever sensitive Argentina/UK relations.
The only real hard news and from Spanish defence media, is that Spain is effectively decommissioning the last eight Mirage F 1 --which have been on service for 35 years--, to be replaced by the Eurofighter, and is looking for buyers and among the countries named are Argentina, Egypt and Ecuador.
Wing 14 from Albacete offer includes eight operational fighter-bombers and four for spares given that the Mirage F1 has long ceased to be manufactured.
“The Argentine Air Force needs urgently to replace and expand its air fleet. Last February in the north of the country it lost a Fighting-hawk A4-AR, C-902, one of four of a fleet of 36 acquired in 1994 by Argentina to the US at a cost of 282 million dollars. It was the last significant purchase of combat material by a democratic government and signed by the administration of Carlos Menem. The A4-AR were manufactured in 1979 and were specially developed for the US Marine Corps”, says a Spanish defence publication from June.
The other piece of hard news came from reports in the Argentine media attributed to recently named Defence minister Agustin Rossi during a visit to the VI Air Brigade seat of the Mirage III/V in Tandil.
Apparently Rossi, revealed “that we are working with the government of Spain in an important possibility as to take into account and which refer to the Mirage that are complying with an important role in the North Shield which is equipped with a system of radars, and when an ‘irregular air transport’ emerges the Air Force activates the two signals, one to the ground security forces and a second to the available aircraft such as Mirage and A4”. He added “we are working on the issue, we are very aware of the situation”.
However no matter how effective the decommissioned Spanish Mirage F 1 are, and if Argentina finally purchases them it will take months before one is operational. In the meantime relations between Madrid and Buenos Aires following the seizure of a majority stock in YPF from Repsol are not in the best of terms and Argentina’s non compliance with trade and financial international treaties and commitments is not necessarily considered a reliable partner.
Recession-hit Spain is hardly in a position to feel generous and Argentina has all sorts of clamps and restrictions to stop the drainage of dollars it desperately needs to pay for energy and imports, and is just over two months away from mid-term elections.
Minister Rossi, who was leader of the ruling coalition in the Lower House, was named to Defence because his electoral fortunes seem exhausted. He is form the province of Santa Fe, totally under opposition control, more precisely Hermes Binner, the Socialist presidential hopeful. Rossi’s governorship attempts in 2011 failed dismally.
Furthermore the recent losses of aircraft by the Argentine Air Force as with Navy vessels embarrassments have an only reason: lack of maintenance, lack of funds, lack of spares.
Last but not least the policy of Cristina Fernandez regarding the Falklands has been clearly stated and repeated: only diplomacy and peaceful means. If that were not the case she would immediately lose the political support from the rest of the continent. Although thirty one years have passed since the Falklands war, memories are still fresh and the attitude of Argentina and the excesses of some British media are not helpful.