In the early 1980s, Argentina’s air force and navy together represented the most powerful air arm in Latin America. Then came the Falklands War, international sanctions and economic recession. From a peak of more than 400 combat aircraft in ’82, today Buenos Aires can muster fewer than 250 warplanes, few of which are actually serviceable at any moment.
The fighter force has suffered the most. After retiring the last of its supersonic Mirage IIIs in August, the Fuerza Aérea Argentina is left with just 43 subsonic fighters. To rebuild its supersonic fighter capability, Buenos Aires considered buying new Gripens from Brazil, old American F-16s, secondhand Mirage F.1s from Spain and new FC-1s from China before finally settling on 14 used Israeli Kfir Block 60s, priced to move at $350 million including several years of maintenance.
It seemed like the FAA might be on the rebound. But not everyone was happy, especially Brig. Mario Roca, the air force’s number-three officer. According to MercoPress,
Roca argued that the fighters to be supplied by Israel did not have the weapons system and only six of them would be equipped with radars, so he refused to support the deal, which he explained to his commanding officer, Brig. General Mario Callejo, and went home.
And in mid-November, the government froze the deal. Officially, the reason was to allow the next president, to be elected on Nov. 22, to decide whether to continue with the acquisition. But there are other possible explanations, according to MercoPress. “Apparently the Argentine air force questioned several issues, for example the refurbished fighter’s engine is a General Electric J79 and thus U.S. approval is needed for the sale.”
So with the Kfir deal up in the air, the Argentine air force remains … on the ground.