Argentina may purchase Chinese fighter jets made by Chengdu Air

Updated: 2015-03-02 04:43

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York(China Daily Latin America)

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Last month Jane's Defence Weekly in the United Kingdom reported that Argentina and China will form a working group to look at the Argentine Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Argentina or FAA) acquiring Chinese fighter jets.

The working group came about after Argentine President Cristina Kirchner traveled to Beijing in February and met with Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping. Two types of Chinese fighter aircraft are potential candidates for the FAA - the FC-1/JF-17 and the J-10, both built by Chengdu Aircraft Corporation.

According to R. Evan Ellis, professor of Latin American Studies at the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Argentina's fleet has been deteriorating for some time and needs updating.

"As with other countries, China offers a low-cost solution, and is willing to be flexible on terms including financing, financing, and the possible incorporation of Argentine agricultural products in the deal. Chinese companies have also become increasingly sophisticated in marketing their products, including the incorporation of technology sharing," he told China Daily in an email.

Jane's reported that Argentina has been trying to replace its antiquated and increasingly unserviceable Dassault Mirage IIIEA, IAI Dagger, and McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk fighter fleets with a newer and more capable type. Last fall Argentina announced plans to acquire 24 Saab Gripen E fighters. However the UK, Argentina's longtime foe, has a near veto on the export of the aircraft as a result of the substantial number of UK-made systems in the jet.

"This is an important development and one that we will see more of in coming years and months. China will increasingly become a low-cost and no strings provider of relatively advanced military technology to countries that are turned away by the West," said Roy Kamphausen, senior adviser for political and security affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research in Washington in an email.

Ellis said that while European, Russian and US technology is generally superior in performance and reliability, the Chinese have made progress in a range of products.

"Latin American countries are also beginning to overcome historical concerns about maintenance and spares in dealing with Chinese companies, and in some areas, such as avionics, are considered to have a package that, aside from quality and reliability, has greater capability than comparable Russian systems. The current purchase is essentially a gamble, however. It would allow the Chinese to prove themselves with a fighter that is more capable than the K-8s and L-15 aircraft that they have marketed to ideologically friendly nations to date, and arguably, to improve the quality and reliability of their product and better tailor it to Latin American needs through the experience," he said.

Ellis said the increasing penetration of the Latin American market by Chinese defense companies will probably attract some attention in Washington.

"Perhaps more importantly, it is part of a broader pattern of more self-confident moves with respect to political, military and commercial engagement that is increasing the level of discomfort in Washington about whether China's long term objectives in the Western hemisphere are compatible with US and regional security interests," he said.