A defense covenant by the argentine general election frontrunners is needed

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The results of the argentine open general primaries have provoked a massive turmoil with both financial and political consequences. The argentine currency collapsed by 25%, with a massive increase on the default risk rating by Fitch even when this was a big poll with no actual binding consequences to the frontrunners, in this case Alberto Fernandez and the in-office President Mauricio Macri.

An important and yet inconclusive difference in favor to Alberto Fernandez will put the pressure in Macri’s administration which has less than 60 days to produce results, or for his rival to fail before the October 27th general election. To guarantee calm in both the argentine people and the markets, foreign and domestic, several meetings took place in the next days between administration officers and Alberto Fernandez’s advisors. These meetings and a so-called covenant were called for to contain the turmoil at least for the campaign and the elections to take place in a scenario of a certain stability.  

Yet, although contemplating a broad specter of sectors of the argentine society, little has been done for the Defense other than to offer a single payment of 5000 pesos (approximately 87 U.S. dollars at current rate) for armed forces personnel as to reinforce each family’s domestic finances. We can all agree that this is not nearly enough.

Between Aug 12th and Aug 17th, we published a poll in our Facebook page “If Mauricio Macri does not get reelected in Argentina and Alberto Fernandez takes office, do you think the Defense and Military will be better or worse?”. With 249 votes, 88% of the voters think that it will be definitely worse.

Much can be debated on the interpretation that many of these votes could have been directed towards the negative side based on an organized intent by discontent voters based on the results of the election. No question or exclusion was made preventing that voters that might have gone for one or the other option made their mark, we cannot identify that.

Among the AF voters, perhaps even considering the limited investment and the stress in the relations by the Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner administration with the Armed Forces or even the MM voters that although do not share the vision of AF, still think the Defense scenario can only get worse even if the public relations with the Armed Forces have improved. It is impossible to say exactly why this happened, but it is unquestionable.

The current situation in the Armed Forces has not changed neither how Argentina needs, or the interested parties want. Underpaid, underemployed, with an actual crisis of their current direction that only has reinforced what it is understood as secondary missions. And to this fact, the main interest is focused in any dual-purpose equipment more than actually military and war fighting gear.

To that purpose, many of the situations we have come across recently demand each day an actual investment for operations, maintenance, upgrade and more rapidly... replacement of aging units. The Air Force’s highest ratio in serviceable aircraft is in helicopters and trainers but actually the most demanded ones are the transport aircraft, the C-130’s, F-28 and DHC-6. The Army is issuing the necessary funds to support the Northern Integration Operation (or OPINOR) -to support the law enforcement in combatting drug-trafficking and smuggling in the Argentine north- and looking for more individual equipment, trucks or spares but yet is to provide an actual full force upgrade of individual equipment. The argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano or TAM tank upgrade which was chosen over four years ago to be performed by Israeli companies showed no actual progress or neither the replacement of the UH-1H helicopters and the single H215 Super Puma in service which are close to their logistical obsolescence and are with trucks, the most demanded units on supporting the community. The Navy has lost its submarine force after the sinking of the ARA San Juan submarine in Nov 2017 and struggles to continue and support its surface fleet although has been recently purchased three DCNS OPV-90’s to France which are currently being built. Its Marine force considering the cheaper costs and the fact that for the first time the Navy has a Marine Chief of Naval Operations, is procuring spares and individual equipment. Still the Naval Aviation is pending the completion of interrupted overhauls of the P-3B Orion marine patrol aircraft and with any funds it can spare, trying to put the recently purchased surplus Super Etendard Modernise from French Navy surplus back in service, but this will not be in the short term.

Considering the talks and agreements of both contenders for the next general elections, measures can and need to be in place in order at least to improve and actually support the dual-purpose needs with proven and relatively cheap equipment. Recent events that turn in need of Army’s Helicopters to support isolated towns and villages due to roads being blocked by rockslides or heavy snowing, and also to support Antarctic operations would definitely be benefited by the purchase of multipurpose helicopters, being these UH-60L of U.S. Army surplus or brand new UH-60M’s, in both cases funded by the U.S. Department of Defense at a low interest rate.

Talks are also in place to incorporate four P-3C Orion aircraft on “hot transfer” directly from the U.S. Navy’s Patrol Squadrons and to phase out the P-3B’s in argentine service. Such aircraft’s dual-purpose use can both support Search and Rescue (SAR) operations even in Antarctic waters and to provide a credible Anti-Submarine Warfare capable marine patrol aircraft. The P-3 Orion shares its SAR responsibilities with the AF’s KC-130H’s that although extensively and recently upgraded are in need of consumables and spares but more importantly a renewed stock of T56 engines, another variant of this engine also in use by the P-3 Orion. U.S. Military funding can also provide more C-130 transports, one of the main priorities of the Argentine AF.

Much can be debated on the fact If to proceed or not with the purchase and joint venture of the FA-50AR’s with Korea Aerospace Industries. An actual assessment of the “bang for the buck” ratio by signing in on a dozen aircraft or to continue supporting the aging A-4Ar Fightinghawks probably will be left to the next administration and then some, the lack of actual statesmanship and commitment by both parties would leave an immediate decision to be later frozen or suspended by discussing any actual terms and conditions of a possible government to government agreement. These are not the only aircraft needed by the AF to be a credible force. Also is still pending but nothing said on the public forum regarding any discussion on offset transfers to be made by DCNS related to the purchase of the Navy’s Bouchard class OPV’s.

Although not impossible to solve, this will require commitment and effort if Argentina wishes to have an actual defense system to develop and not merely a deterrent force by name but one to build upon.

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