The President of Argentina, Maurici Macri, has given his go-ahead for the purchase of five Super Etendard from the French Marine Nationale. The Argentinian military urgently needs to restock its air fleet to secure the 2018 G20. In the meantime, France is still waiting for the payment to start deliveries.

The sale of the five Dassault-Breguet Super Etendard Modernisés was announced during a visit of President Macri in France back in January 2018. The €12 million contract, which was signed on January 26, 2018, also includes eight ATAR 8K50 engines, spare parts and a training simulator.

The Super Etendard Modernisé (SEM), retired from active duty in the 17F squadron of the Marine Nationale on July 12, 2016, after serving on the French nuclear carrier Charles de Gaulle. They have since been stocked and maintained on Châteaudun airbase from where they should fly towards Argentina once the sale is closed.

Argentinian's dire need for fighter jets

The Argentinian Air Force is in dire need of fighter jets. The most humiliating sign of urgency dates back to Barack Obama’s visit on March 24, 2016. At the time, the United States had to use four of its own F-16 to escort Air Force One, as Argentina did not possess any aircraft quick enough to do so. In 2017, it grounded its supersonic fighters, the Lockheed Martin A-4R, due to a lack of spare parts.

However, as the G-20 will be held in the capital Buenos Aires between November 30 and December 1, 2018, the Argentinian government needs fighter jets to secure its airspace while the leaders of the twenty most powerful countries in the world will meet. So far, Argentina only has two dozens of IA 58 Pucará propeller fighters to offer. But the indigenous planes developed in the 1970s are mainly designed for ground attack and are definitely not fit for air superiority.

For a while, it was reported that Argentina could rent two to four Northrop F-5s from Brazilian Air Force or recondition some of its ten non-updated Super Etendards acquired in 1979. But the second solution would require a $10 million investment to put an obsolete fighter back in the air.

The French solution

Instead, the Defense Ministers of Argentina and France agreed on selling to Argentina five SEM in their latest version, the Standard 5. This version offers several counter-measures to protect the fighter from guided missiles, such as a jammer (Barracuda) and a chaff dispenser (Phimat). It is also fitted with an updated radar and can carry modern ordnance.

Three of the SEMs will enter service as soon as they are received, according to British defense publication IHS Jane’s, and will help Argentinian pilots to freshen up their training, as their former aircraft have been grounded. As for the two others, they should be dismantled in order to recondition and modernize the Super Etendards acquired in 1979. In total, the country expects to get five of the fighters ready for operations before the G20.

Long time, no payment

However, it seems that four months after the sale was publicly announced, France still has not received the €12 million (plus, almost €2 million for transport from Châteaudun airbase). The delay could have two explanations, according to Argentinian newspaper La Nación.

The first reason, according to military sources, is that since it was announced Argentina would purchase the SEMs in late 2017, an internal conflict has been going on between the Argentinian Navy and Air Force, as both corps’ fleets are in disarray.

The second explanation is of a more political nature. France has been blocking a trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur for almost two decades. As the biggest agricultural power of Europe, the country has a beef on beef (and other meats) coming from South America that could flood the European market and threaten its position.

For Argentinians, the SEM contract could be seen as a pact with the devil, hence the delayed investment.