Argentina’s Dilemma: US-Approved F-16s vs. Chinese JF-17 Offer in Contention

Argentina's Dilemma: US-Approved F-16s vs. Chinese JF-17 Offer in Contention
Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-16 Block-52 and JF-17 Thunder Armed With BVR Missiles Patrolling Over Northern Territories. Credits: Pakistan Airforce

On October 11, 2023, the U.S. Department of State greenlit the transfer of pre-owned F-16s from Denmark to Argentina and paved the way for a similar exchange of P-3s from Norway.

Argentina had previously attempted to procure new aircraft to replace its outdated A-4R Fightinghawks. However, these attempts were consistently thwarted by the United Kingdom due to the prevalence of British components in most Western aircraft, such as the Martin Baker ejection seats.

This situation persisted since the conclusion of the Falklands War. Nevertheless, the transfer of the F-16s does not necessitate approval from the UK.

While U.S. authorities did not disclose specific quantities, Argentine media outlets suggest that the deal could involve 24 Vipers (as the F-16 is colloquially known among pilots), effectively replacing the A-4Rs on a one-to-one basis. The A-4R currently stands as the sole operational fighter jet, following the retirement of the Mirage III in 2016.

During the discussion, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Kanewske specified that the F-16s being offered to Argentina will include AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9 air-to-air missiles, both of which are primary armaments employed by the U.S. Air Force.

The F-16 now faces competition from the JF-17, which the government was already considering. Beijing’s offer is financially more appealing and comes with fewer operational constraints, as reported by La Nacion.

China purportedly extended an offer for a batch of 15 aircraft to Argentina, with potential for two additional batches. The Sino-Pakistani aircraft boasts a more contemporary design compared to the Lockheed Martin platform, which took its maiden flight in the 1970s. Furthermore, the JF-17 proposed to Argentina is equipped with Chinese engines, unlike the versions operated by Myanmar and Nigeria, which feature Russian engines.

“They are new aircraft, and China offers a comprehensive armament and sensor package with minimal restrictions,” stated military sources as quoted by La Nacion.

In light of reports concerning engine issues grounding the Myanmar Air Force’s JF-17 fleet, Beijing has put forth a new iteration of JF-17s powered by Chinese engines. The JF-17s in service with Pakistan, Myanmar, and Nigeria are equipped with Russian engines.

“They are new aircraft, and China offers a comprehensive armament and sensor package with minimal restrictions,” La Nacion quoted military sources.

Additionally, Denmark is transferring 19 of their 43 F-16s to Ukraine. This means that the sale of the remaining 24 aircraft to Argentina would absolve the country of the responsibility of managing the retired F-16 fleet once the F-35 becomes fully operational and assumes the Viper’s roles.

As per the La Nacion report, the package will encompass training, equipment, AIM-120 and AIM-9 missiles, along with a $40 million fund to facilitate the acquisition.

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