Powered by
Sponsored by

Argentina reveals talks with India on Tejas. Will ejection seat shoot down a deal?

Argentine Air Force chief said a new supersonic fighter was an "absolute" priority

tejas iaf Two Tejas jets of the Indian Air Force | Twitter handle of IAF

Last month, Pakistani media outlets were abuzz with reports that Argentina had decided to purchase the JF-17 fighter jet. The JF-17 fighter was originally developed by China, with Pakistan contributing funds and becoming its primary customer and production partner.

While China has not purchased the aircraft, it is the Pakistan Air Force's main fighter, with over 100 aircraft having entered service over the past decade. The Pakistan Air Force claims the JF-17 was used in the skirmish against India over Kashmir in February 2019. The aircraft has also been exported to Myanmar and Nigeria.

However, days after the reports, the Argentine ministry of defense announced it had only sought $664 million for acquiring a new fighter, but had not selected a preferred aircraft yet.

Last week, Infodefensa, a Spanish language website focussing on South American military news, interviewed Brigadier Xavier Julian Isaac, the chief of the Argentine Air Force. Isaac told Infodefensa that the Argentine Air Force had received offers for new fighters from Russia and China, but was also awaiting proposals from the US and India.

Isaac told Infodefensa that Argentina had an engagement with India, "which is wanting to offer us the Tejas, but we are just in the first talks". Isaac said Argentina had received offers for supply of the JF-17 from China and the MiG-29 and MiG-35 from Russia.

Isaac revealed the Argentine Air Force wants to receive all offers for a new aircraft by the end of this year and by the "first quarter of next year" decide on a platform and financing for it.

Supersonic woes

Argentine retired its last supersonic fighter aircraft, French-designed Mirage III and V jets, in 2015. These aircraft were first inducted before the Falklands War of 1982 against the UK.

Isaac told Infodefensa that the search for a fourth-generation supersonic fighter was an "absolute" priority for the Argentine Air Force. Isaac also emphasised that any deal with a foreign company would have to include industrial cooperation with Fábrica Argentina de Aviones "Brigadier San Martín" (FAdeA), the country's state-owned aircraft maker. Isaac said this would involve offset agreements, which would mandate the chosen foreign supplier invest a portion of the contract value in the customer country. Such offset deals aim at creating employment and spurring technology growth.

The Argentine Air Force had been seeking to induct new supersonic fighters for decades, but has been thwarted by a combination of the country’s precarious financial condition and British pressure on arms companies.

Ejection seat veto?

Over the past decade, Argentina's attempts to buy aircraft such as the Saab Gripen from Sweden and later the FA-50 trainer/light fighter from South Korea were, reportedly, scuttled by British pressure. Both aircraft use British equipment, including ejection seats built by UK-based Martin Baker. Interestingly, JF-17 jets in Pakistan Air Force service use Martin Baker ejection seats.

The Tejas also uses a Martin Baker ejection seat called the MK16 IN16 GS Tejas. Other notable British-supplied equipment on the Tejas include its air-to-air refuelling probe and quartz radome, supplied by UK-based Cobham.

In 2014, Argentina's then defence minister Agustin Rossi said the country intended to buy 24 Gripen fighters from Sweden. About 30 per cent of the components of the Gripen, including its radar and ejection seat, were of British origin. In 2015, Saab ruled out facilitating a Gripen sale to Argentina, noting it was not involved in any discussions to remove British-origin content from the aircraft.

In October last year, South Korean aircraft maker Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) informed the Argentine embassy it would not be able to offer its F/A-50 trainer/light fighter on account of the UK's arms embargo. Argentina had evaluated the F/A-50 in 2016 and expressed interest in buying it. KAI noted the F/A-50 had six major components sourced from the UK. The components included the ejection seat and landing gear parts.

While aircraft makers can, in theory, select and install new ejection seats on an aircraft, the process to test and validate the aircraft and equipment at various altitudes and flight conditions is time-consuming and would add to costs.

Andrei Serbin Pont, the director of Argentinean think tank CRIES, told Defense News last month the JF-17 could be an attractive choice for Argentina as it was "out of reach of possible U.K. vetoing of parts, and at the same time it is the only new aircraft within the budgetary restraints of the Argentine Air Force".

📣 The Week is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@TheWeekmagazine) and stay updated with the latest headlines