The Argentine Air Force lost its last supersonic fighters in late 2015 when the Dassault Mirages were taken out of service. These, by then 40+ year old aircraft, some of them veteran of two wars, were pretty much obsolete and had lost much of its logistical support.
Air Superiority after that was left to the subsonic A-4M Skyhawk II, extensively upgraded in early 1990s with new avionics, full glass cockpit and a much capable nav/attack suite. Still, the now dubbed A-4AR “Fightinghawks”, lack any actual air superiority capacity but hold a very respected performance within WVR combat envelopes. As many of you can recall, these aircraft were used as part of the, Hollywood immortalized, “Top Gun” U.S. Navy Fighter School. Their very reduced logistics support still enables the Argentine Air Force to continue operating them for a few years to come.
Many times, long before the actual retirement of the Mirages, the Air Force tried to acquire new aircraft, but financial and/or political motives have prevented Argentina to do so. Before the “Deltas” (as in their distinctive form) were out of service, a number of negotiations were in place to replace them, or at least one squadron of 12 to 14 aircraft and an ideal of 24 to 28.
Upon these parameters, five distinctive options were originally considered in 2016. The Dassault Mirage 2000-5 or -9, Mikoyan Gurevich MIG-29 SMT, Chengdu JF-17, Leonardo M-346 and Korea Aerospace Industries FA-50.
The ever-reducing operators and the end of logistics support of the first two aircraft quickly discarded them as option, while the lack of actual depot maintenance experience combined with pending sensors and weapons systems integration turned the tide towards the Korean proposal. An evaluating committee, none the less, was sent in 2016 both to Italy and South Korea, which reinforced the original conclusions to the proposed aircraft and reinforced the decision towards the KAI proposal.
The FA-50 is a combat development of the T-50 Golden Eagle advanced trainer, though should not prove a matching and proportional replacement of the Dassault Mirages. Budget and Financial restraints forbid Argentina to acquire and operate full size multirole fighters. This has therefore delayed a decision purely based on local management of the ongoing financial crisis and recession, unrelated to any foreign influence, unlike what’s been expressed in recent publications.
The FA-50 should provide an air to air engagement capability with limited use of air to ground precision guided munitions. KAI and the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF)s experience validates the reliability of the airframe, avionics, combat systems and GE’s F404 engine. FA-50 is comprised of components built in Israel, United States and South Korea. None the less, an air to air refueling capability as of self-protective countermeasures should be developed since as of today, are non-existent in the Korean aircraft.
The intended agreement upon 24 aircraft, support and training should contemplate the delivery of a small number of aircraft built in South Korea and then to be assembled and built in the Fabrica Argentina de Aviones (FAdeA), for approximately 1000 million U.S. dollars. Another agreement, both with the U.S. or Israel for air to air missiles alone to support this Lead In Fighter Trainer fleet should be of approximately 200 million U.S. dollars as well, to start with.
Much is at stake with this possible deal, three years of negotiations have constantly improved the original conditions, within reason, considering the downturn of argentine economy. According to argentine new offset bill, a one-billion-dollar agreement should produce an offset of the same amount or higher from the seller or it’s backing country. This could come as a new stage for both FAdeA as well for the whole argentine industry.
With intention of sweetening the deal, KAI and the Government of South Korea have proposed to donate the first two aircraft so the Argentine Air Force can try and use in first-hand the FA-50 and finally close the entire agreement. This has come very appealing to the Ministry of Defense, but still reluctant to commit pending on the results of the next elections, in October 2019.
This relates directly to a scandal that happened on late 2015 after a deal for 14 IAI Kfir fighter-bombers was suspended when the final commitment was needed by Agustin Rossi, then Defense Minister, who claimed to be irresponsible to take a decision over another government, yet to take office, commitments. After that, the Air Force itself discarded the idea.
So one more chapter in this soap opera..