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23 lutego 2015

Is Argentina going to buy Chinese fighters?

Much has been said on the last days about the possible purchase by Argentina of Chinese fighters for the Air Force and also on offshore patrol vessels for the Argentine Navy. It’s clear that Argentina needs new fighters to replace the obsolete Mirage IIIs, Mirage 5 Maras and IAI M5 Fingers, as well as the A-4AR Fightinghawk and, despite some British media declared that a possible purchase will pose a threat to the Malvinas/ Falkland Islands because of the range of the planes, the true is that any kind of combat aircraft that could be bought will have more than the 650 kilometers of range needed to reach the islands from the mainland. And the country must buy new aircraft. If they pose a threat to the islands is a question of internal and bilateral politics, if the situation of the negotiations for the future of the islands must lead to a new crisis or not.

Regarding the Chinese offer for FC-1 or J-10 fighters, the problem is not what the Chinese could offer, as they are willing to sell their fighters. In 2012 they even offered the assembly of the FC-1 in Argentina at Fadea factory, but they problem is the intention by the Argentine Air Force to acquire Chinese equipment.

The Argentine Air Force chief of staff (maximum rank on the force), Brigadier Mario Callejo was informed in early January by the Defense Minister, Agustín Rossi, that president Cristina Fernández will include the possibility of buying fighters as part of her negotiations in China. Asked about the interest of the Air Force on acquiring such material, he said he was not very convinced on buying Chinese planes, because of the difference on philosophy used on them, but the Air Force had already analyzed the K-8s in Bolivia to know more about it. The analisys was that the plane was good but not great, with a very small cockpit and not very comfortable. The engines, were considered reliable for being Ukranian, but in the other hand, the Venezuelan and Bolivians showed their concern that the engines where the most problematic part of the plane and all accidents in Venezuela were caused by engine problems.

For the Argentine Air Force, the main problem will be to see the differences between Chinese and Western planes, as they already are having trouble with the maintenance Mi-171 helicopters, and the Chinese are based on the Russian philosophy.

This idea of creating a working group goes in this direction, but this doesn't mean they are going to buy Chinese fighters in the short term, they will only analyze the pros and cons of adding Chinese planes to the Argentine Air Force.

The main advantage for buying Chinese is that they can use the credit received from them, which is in Yuans and not in US Dollars. As the government has no US Dollars but received those loans from China, they are using that to buy Chinese stuff, like trains and other equipment. This makes possible the purchase of the planes without using US Dollars, needed by the economy in the short term. The Navy is also analyzing the possible purchase of offshore patrol vessels there instead of building them in Argentina, as was planned.

Now, on the other hand, this government will finish on 10 December 2015 and they are facing a huge political crisis, with also a growing economical one (but the political is far much bigger) and I don't know if they will use money to buy fighters that will be received by the next government. In Argentina no governor or president buys something that will be received or inaugurated by his successor.

The FC-1 has the advantage of having a very low price but, despite it's a new plane, it's not match for the new planes in the region, like the F-16s of Chile and Gripen NG that Brazil will receive. The J-10 could be a better option.

Anyway, any kind of work group will not have a definition before the presidential elections in October and after that, everything could change. The next government will face a lot of economical trouble and the opposition, with more possibilities of reaching the presidency is not supporting the idea of so many deals with China, so it's possible they buy nothing there.

On the other hand, the Chinese have no restrictions on what they sell and Argentina can buy them using credits from them which are not in US Dollars, so they can buy the planes but use the US Dollars on the reserves and from export to pay debt and imports from the Western countries (which are the main worry of the government by now, as the reserves of the Central Bank are going low). The Chinese are also open to transfer technology and maybe they could be a good partner. What most people fear from them is that they are not only interested on selling planes, they have a bigger interest on South America and they will try to take the region to their influence and far from the USA and Europe. A bigger Chinese presence in the region goes against the interests of the Western powers and this also could lead to a change on the politics of weapon sales by the USA and Europe.

As for example, China could support Argentina on the dispute over the Malvinas/ Falklands if they want to challenge the UK and they can give Argentina as much weapons and support the country needs for that, without restrictions, only to increase the threat over the British and make them increase their spending on the defense of the islands.

In the other hand, the British military, trying to convince the politicians of the need to increase the defense budget, are talking over an over about the possible military purchases by Argentina, like the fake news of the Su-24s and the supposed interest of Argentina on the Gripen. Also, when Israel offered the Gripen, the British media talked about them as a "serious threat" over the islands, when we all know that a Kfir is no match against an Eurofighter.

It's interesting to note that most of the news regarding big spending by Argentina to buy new fighters are originated in the UK and most of them are fake or exaggerated!