After a significant period of decline, Argentina has ceased to be a capable military force.
The Argentine air force recently retired its Mirage fighters with only a handful of them even flyable. The country also confirmed that all their Lockheed Martin A-4AR Skyhawk fighters have been grounded.
Argentine ground forces rarely have the resources for training and are vastly under equipped, their kit dates back to the 70’s and is in very short supply. In addition to this, the Argentine Air Force largely consists of a collection of obsolete aircraft mostly dating back to the 1970’s, which are frequently grounded due to poor serviceability.
The problems don’t stop there, their submarine crews despite benefiting from a recent upgrade need at least 190 days of immersion practice and in 2016 only spent 19 hours submerged. A similar situation is faced by their four destroyers, they don’t have any serviceable weaponry. According to IHS Janes
“The Argentine Air Force is drastically cutting staff working hours and decommissioning its last fighter aircraft amid continuing budget issues. A recently published daily agenda indicates that the service’s working hours have been significantly reduced, from 0800 to 1300; rationing of food, energy consumption, and office supplies has been directed headquarters staff and property residents; and only the minimum personnel required to staff headquarters, directorates, and commands are working.“
This leaves the Argentine military with just one type of jet, the IA-63 which is subsonic, decades old and barely serviceable. Argentina had looked into buying new Gripen’s from Sweden via Brazil but this was vetoed by the United Kingdom which makes a large number of internal components for the aircraft. They had also looked at JF-17’s from China, but the JF-17s proved too expensive to modify.
When Barack Obama visited in March 2016, Air Force One was accompanied by US Air Force F-16’s because Argentina could only offer Pucarás and Pampas for air defence.
Former Argentine defence minister Julio Martinez recently criticised government policies towards the Armed Forces saying a lack of funds has caused more losses than the Falklands War.
“We have been able to begin the recovery of the Argentine Armed Forces, and the respect they deserve, since they are an institution of the democratic system”, said Martinez.
According to local media, when asked more specifically on his comments Martinez said that when he took office he was informed that during the South Atlantic conflict Argentina lost 72 aircraft, but “under Kirchnerism we lost over a hundred planes.”
Military aircraft ceased to operate because of “lack of maintenance, spares, refurbishing and simply because there no funds invested.”
He added that the Cordoba aircraft factory had a staff of 1.500, “and not a single aircraft was built in ten years”.
The last major purchase of aircraft to revamp the Argentine Air Force capacity was back in 1995 when 32 A4AR Sky-hawks were acquired from the United States, for 400 million.
According to Forecast International, recent reports indicating Argentina plans to purchase $2 billion worth of military equipment are unrealistic. The group say that for the time being, Argentina will have to rely on donations from other countries to fill the gaps in its military capabilities.
In a letter leaked to El Destape, Argentine ambassador to the U.S. Martin Lousteau listed equipment needed by the Argentine Army and Air Force to conduct peacekeeping missions, combat terrorism, and counter illegal trafficking. The list, which would be the envy of even the best-equipped militaries, included F-16 fighter jets, Stryker armored vehicles, air surveillance radar systems, AH-1 Cobra Helicopters, UH-60 and CH-47 transport helicopters, and anti-tank weaponry.
The list has become a scandal in Argentina, as political opponents of President Mauricio Macri have attacked him over its contents.
Since his election in 2015, President Macri has drastically cut government spending and subsidies. And, while these measures will improve the government’s finances and help the economy become more sustainable in the long-term, they are causing short-term hardships for many Argentine citizens who have been accustomed to receiving government subsidies.
Rumors that the Argentine military is purchasing advanced, and expensive, weaponry during a time of government austerity has angered those who are now suffering. It would be callous, to say the least, if the Argentine government were to spend $2 billion on advanced weaponry while cutting back on popular social services.
Argentina is not, however, planning to purchase this equipment. In February, former Minister of Defense Julio Martinez ruled out a purchase of fighter jets. So, that takes at least one item off the list. Furthermore, Forecast International conducted an analysis of the letter between Ambassador Lousteau and US Representative Pete Visclosky. Based on that analysis, Forecast International does not believe that Argentina’s government has any intention of purchasing the listed equipment.
The group say that Argentina just doesn’t have the means to purchase the equipment it listed. In 2016, Argentina’s defence budget was about $4.6 billion. And, with 73.9 percent of that funding going towards personnel expenses, there is little left over to acquire expensive equipment. Instead, Argentina will have to make due with purchasing less expensive equipment, such as T-6 Texan II trainer aircraft, and upgrading current equipment such as its IA-63 Pampa III.