Working against the clock, President Alberto Fernández is accelerating definitions in the last stage of his term in office in order to earn brownie points on the defence front, a section of government historically neglected since the return of democracy but key to an uncertain and conflict-ridden international context, in which the eyes of the world are turning towards South Atlantic resources.
In recent years it has been Defence Minister Jorge Taiana who has headed the negotiations to modernise the Armed Forces, a state debt left pending since the Malvinas War. Among the most striking negotiations have been the purchase of combat aircraft to modernise the Air Force, a decision with major geopolitical implications considering the two main players, the United States and China, both offering technical and financial advantages and disadvantages.
The defence area was upgraded by the creation of the National Defence Fund (FONDEF, in its Spanish acronym) in 2020, which, even if suffering heavy cuts in the 2024 Budget, obliges the Argentine state to invest in an area relegated by other but not less important budget urgencies. FONDEF has thus driven the negotiations to buy strategic defence materiel such as combat, freight and patrol aircraft.
After months of back and forth and international travel (and warnings from US officials), the US Congress has finally approved the sale 24 F-16 fighters to Argentina, coming in from Denmark. They are also evaluating financing possibilities, which would represent a relief for Argentine coffers since it is an investment of almost US$450 million, as estimated by military portals, something only offered until now by the Chinese for their JF Thunder aircraft, to which should be added the dollar costs of training pilots, the armament systems and the maintenance.
Even if there are still no definitions nor concrete proposals on the Argentine side, as far as Perfil could ascertain, it means a wink from the Joe Biden administration, worried about not losing pace in Latin America with the advance of China, especially as regards military cooperation.
In this context, and with Washington approval, Taiana and Navy Chief-of-Staff Julio Guardia signed an agreement to buy four P3 ORION aircraft which are in the United States while belonging to Norway and which are to be used for vigilance and search and rescue missions in the South Atlantic.
This is a matter of strategic interest to contain the poaching in the fisheries within the 200 nautical miles of territorial waters and also amid the tension with the United Kingdom over the exploitation of the resources in the waters surrounding the Malvinas, Georgias and South Sandwich islands.
"The acquisition of these aircraft constitutes a major contribution towards boosting our policy of improving the vigilance and control of our waters. That’s why we created the Joint Maritime Command to use under its direction the four new ocean patrol aircraft but we also needed a long-distance observation aircraft like the Orion, which will be based in Trelew [in Chubut Province]," said Taiana during the announcement from the Fragata Presidente Sarmiento, anchored in Puerto Madero.
The new aircraft join the donation of a Hercules C-130 last June. Taiana also announced that Argentina is "in the process of purchasing" specific helicopters for ocean patrols.
With regard to the technical specifications, Admiral Guardia said that the P3 Orions "are central" for the Air Force because they have an "enormous flight distance time" (of 17,000 hours), as well as their radar and camera systems and their radius of action (1,500 nautical miles or just under 3,000 kilometres). All this permits an "almost continuous" permanence in the maritime areas of interest all the way down to the Argentine Antarctic, detailed the admiral.
The negotiations for this incorporation, including all the system of maintenance, started last March and continued throughout the year via meetings in both Buenos Aires and Norway with the technical visits by aviation engineers attached to the Naval Aviation Command to their Norwegian counterparts in the Department D3 team.
“Congratulations to the Argentine Navy for acquiring the US-produced P3 Orion aircraft. These will facilitate the Argentine forces' surveillance and control of illegal fishing and search and rescue operations in the South Atlantic. We’re proud to see more US aircraft in Argentina!” said US Ambassador to Argentina Marc Stanley in a post on X, the social network formerly known as Twitter.