After almost two years of negotiations and endless speculations surrounding the question of what fighter jet Argentina would go for, Argentine media report that a decision has been made to purchase the IAI Kfir jets to replace the Air Force’s Mirages. According to the report, in Interdefensa Militar Argentina, the decision is currently awaiting final approval from the Cabinet.
The Israel Aircraft Industries Kfir (Hebrew: Lion Cub) is an all-weather, versatile combat aircraft based on a modified French Dassault Mirage 5 airframe, with Israeli avionics and an Israeli-built version of the General Electric J79 turbojet engine. The Kfir’s first combat action took place on November 9, 1977, during an air strike on a training camp at Tel Azia, in Lebanon. The only air victory claimed by a Kfir during its service with the IAF took place on June 27, 1979, when a Kfir C.2 shot down a Syrian MiG-21.
In 2013, the Argentine Air Force began negotiations with Israel for 18 Kfir Block 60 fighters as an alternative to another deal for 16 surplus Spanish Mirage F1 fighters. Industry sources claimed the IAI would “soon” receive an order for the Argentine Air Force for Kfir Block 60s after the purchase of the Spanish Mirage F1s had failed.
Argentina recently approved another arms deal with Israel, to upgrade the Argentine TAM tank by Elbit Systems. Another transaction took place over the development of fighter aircraft IA-63 Pampa, which will receive Elbit Systems avionics.
Although the final contract is yet to be ratified, the assessment is that the aircraft will be delivered to Argentina over the next 18-20 months, with the first plane to be provided some 8 months after signing the agreement.
According to Lagaceta, the contract is expected to be signed this month and it will also include an IAI maintenance contract for 10 years for the aircraft. The upgraded aircraft will arrive with modern radar type EL / M-2052 from ELTA Systems, and an EW (Electronic Warfare) system by Elisra. It is likely that the plane will be equipped with Rafael made rockets Python and Derby, a Lightning pod, and a pilot’s helmet from Elbit Systems.
The announcement was strongly criticized by the opposition arguing that the contract is to be signed by a government that is leaving (10 December) after twelve years in office, and it would be more appropriate to let the new authorities decide.
Argentina lost most of its Air Force during the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas conflict. Except for a few Skyhawks supplied by the US, there has been virtually no replacements and lower defense budgets have made the upkeep and/or refurbish of fighter jets a most difficult task.
The Cristina Fernandez administration also received offers from France, Spain, Russia, China and Brazil for fighter planes but for different reasons none of the deals were completed.