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Argentina Will Take Another Look at the JF-17 Thunder
April 19, 2021

Argentina Will Take Another Look at the JF-17 Thunder

In an interview with Pucará Defense, the Chief of the General Staff of the Argentine Air Force, Brigadier Xavier Isaac, revealed that the country will reconsider the JF-17 Thunder.[1] The disclosure follows Buenos Aires’ inability to secure the F/A-50 from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). The F/A-50 uses six key British components which required the United Kingdom’s approval for third-party transfers. KAI could not get those approvals for Argentina due to the country’s marred relationship with the UK.[2] Brigadier Isaac stated that the air force’s interest in the JF-17 is part of its wider look at non-Western fighter platforms.

Argentina started its pursuit for a new-generation fighter aircraft in 2013. It had originally sought Spanish Air Force Dassault Mirage F-1s. However, that deal fell through because of a lack of funding and technical issues with the program. Argentina then requested Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Kfir fighters, but lack of certainty regarding the health of those airframes scuttled that route. In 2014, Argentina had broadened its look to include both Chinese and Russian fighters, but at that time, it still sought a Western fighter.

By 2016, Argentina began serious negotiations with Israel for the IAI Kfir Block-60. With the Kfir Block-60, IAI overhauled the fighter’s J79 turbojet to zero hours and upgraded it with modern subsystems, including the EL/M 2052 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Argentina was in talks with Israel for 12-14 aircraft, but in 2017, the Argentine Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced it suspended those plans.

In 2019, reports started emerging of the Argentine Air Force entering serious talks with KAI for the latter’s F/A-50. The F/A-50 is the multirole fighter variant of the T-50 lead-in-fighter-trainer (LIFT) platform. This solution would have provided Argentina with both an advanced training platform and an adept lightweight multi-role fighter. However, according to Brigadier Isaac, when the prospect of a sale took on momentum (with Argentina arranging funds), KAI was unable to seriously commit due to the British-origin parts of the fighter. Brigadier Isaac said that Argentina was expecting the deal to fall through due to this issue.[3]

The Argentine Air Force has had a chequered experience seeking new combat aircraft to replace its legacy fleet, which are made up of aging A-4ARs. The A-4AR is an advanced variant of the A-4M Skyhawk built on a number of onboard electronics from the F-16, such as the AN/APG-66v2 radar, among other subsystems. It is unclear how many of Argentina’s original 36 A-4ARs remain in service, though one report claims that the Argentine Air Force is operating as six aircraft as of 2020.[4] If this situation is accurate, then Argentina lacks a credible air warfare capability in both the present and the future.

Argentina is working to generate movement towards its new fighter program in 2021, and in that vein, it will consider a variety of options, including non-Western solutions. The Argentine Air Force is planning for 12 new aircraft, and Brigadier Isaac said that it is considering the JF-17 Block-III an option. In fact, Brigadier Isaac revealed that Argentina had sent a commission to Pakistan about the JF-17 in 2017. However, it is currently interested in the JF-17 Block-III, which Brigadier Isaac says is “quite another plane” compared to the variant (likely Block-II) it had examined several years ago…

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[1] Interview with Brigadier General Xavier Isaac, Chief of the General Staff of the Argentine Air Force. Santiago Rivas. Pucará Defense. 27 November 2020. URL: https://www.pucara.org/post/entrevista-al-brigadier-xavier-isaac-jefe-del-estado-mayor-general-de-la-fuerza-a%C3%A9rea-argentina

[2] Gareth Jennings. “UK bars South Korea from selling FA-50 to Argentina.” Jane’s Defence Weekly. 30 October 2020. URL: https://www.janes.com/defence-news/news-detail/uk-bars-south-korea-from-selling-fa-50-to-argentina

[3] Pucará Defense. 27 November 2020.

[4] Clement Charpentrueau. “Argentine A-4AR fighter jet crashes near Cordoba, pilot dead.” Aerotime Hub. 06 August 2020. URL: https://www.aerotime.aero/clement.charpentreau/25597-argentinian-a-4ar-fighter-jet-crashes-near-cordoba-pilot-dead

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