China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) delegation visited Argentina to offer supersonic aircraft last week. The fighter has been combat-proven by Pakistan Air Force.
In the past, it was claimed that Argentina would buy 20 fighters, and now the deal is for 12 aircraft, according to the Zona Militar website.
Following the retirement of its latest Dassault Mirage III in 2015 and the Israeli manufactured IAI Kfir, the Argentine Air Force is out of supersonic fighter jets in its fleet. The air force has six subsonic Douglas A-4 Skyhawk aircraft, with limited ground attack and no interceptor capacity. Argentine Air Force Skyhawks sank the Royal Navy’s Type 42 destroyer Coventry and inflicted various damage on several others at the Falkland Islandswar in 1982.
The force negotiated with Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) to acquire FA-50. Once the negotiations failed in 2019, Russia offered MIG-35 and China JF-17. The Argentine Air Force has also wanted 12-14 Israel Kfir Block-60 aircraft. However, in 2017, the Argentine Ministry of Defence announced it suspended those plans. IAI would overhaul 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.
The option for the MiG-35 and JF-17 fighters comes after a British government veto prevents the sale of South Korean planes, which are equipped with avionics produced in the United Kingdom, including Martin-Baker ejection seats. London has also blocked the 24 JAS 39 Gripen fighter sale to Argentina as it provides some 30 per cent of the Gripen’s content, including the radar on its next-generation Gripen E/F.
Like the MiG, the JF-17 uses Russian origin, the RD-39 engine, a variant developed from the RD-33 used by the MiG-35. The Chinese fighter, however, is lighter and less capable of carrying weapons.
Despite this, the JF-17 Thunder has sufficient performance to carry out the interceptor fighting mission. It can reach Mach 1.6 and has a combat radius of up to 1,352 km. The fighter has seven hard-points that can receive from infrared-guided air-to-air missiles to air-to-surface and anti-ship weaponry, as well as bombs and cannons.
Currently, the JF-17 is operated by Pakistan (138 fighters), Myanmar (16 on order) and Nigeria, which received its first three planes in 2021. The Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder becomes a good alternative for light-fighter aircraft with low maintenance cost. It is combat tested, and there is no risk of getting imposition of Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Besides exports to Myanmar and Nigeria. Pakistan is also in talks with Malaysia, Azerbaijan, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and Sri Lanka, among other countries, for the JF-17 Block III.
For the Argentina case, China takes Argentina’s position on the Falkland Islands and has compared the dispute to China’s sovereignty claims over disputed islands in the East and South China Seas.