Argentina looks back at Pakistani JF-17 Thunder after UK veto on KAI FA-50 deal

JF17 Thunder Argentina new fighter
Pakistani JF-17 Thunder multirole combat aircraft. It is under evaluation by Argentina.

During a recent interview with local media Pucará Defense, Argentine Air Force Chief of Staff Brigadier Xavier Isaac revealed that the country will again consider the JF-17 Thunder after the UK veto against the purchase of the KAI F/A-50. Isaac said the Air Force's interest in JF-17 is part of its broader look at non-Western combat platforms.

Argentina began its search for a modern fighter aircraft in 2013. It initially considered purchasing 16 former Spanish Air Force Dassault Mirage F-1 aircraft. However, the deal did not go through due to budget problems. Argentina then evaluated 14 refurbished Israeli Kfir fighters, but the aircraft's lack of radar and weapon systems put that deal down as well.

In 2014, Argentina entered into negotiations with Israel to acquire 12-14 refurbished Kfir aircraft and in 2016 with France for 12 second-hand Mirage F-1 or Mirage 2000 fighters, but in 2017 the Argentine Ministry of Defense announced the suspension of such plans.

In 2019, Buenos Aires started serious talks with KAI to procure the F/A-50, the multi-role combat variant of the T-50 lead-in-fighter-trainer (LIFT) platform, but the UK veto prevented the deal.

The Argentine Air Force needs new fighter jets to replace its legacy fleet of obsolete A-4ARs. The A-4AR is an advanced variant of the A-4M Skyhawk that boasts some of the same electronic equipment as the F-16, such as the AN/APG-66v2 radar. It is unclear how many of the initial 36 Argentine A-4ARs remain in service today. According to Aerotime, only six aircraft are currently operational.

Argentina is working to finalize the acquisition of 12 new fighters in 2021 and, in this sense, is considering a range of options that include Western and non-Western platforms. Isaac said they are looking at JF-17 Block-III with a lot of interest. The nation had already considered the Pakistani aircraft in 2017 when an Argentine commission traveled to Pakistan to discuss the deal. However Buenos Aires is currently interested in the JF-17 Block-III, which according to Isaac, is a different aircraft than the previously evaluated Block-II variant. It is equated to the more updated variant of the F-16, but with a more affordable cost.

The Block-III variant, currently under development, will feature a new engine, AESA radar, helmet mounted display (HMD) and likely an infrared search and track (IRST) system. It will also have a next-generation cockpit that will include a new mission computer and improved head-up and multifunction displays.

However, Buenos Aires will have to contend with budget problems as the cost of the JF-17 Block-III exceeds $ 30 million per unit. It is not excluded that this will lead the nation to opt for the Italian-made M-346FA Fighter Attack as preferred by the Argentine Air Force.

Written by Matteo Sanzani