Will the UK block the Chinese fighter offer to Argentina?

Shimin Gu

On May 12, 2021, a Chinese delegation met with the Argentinian authorities to discuss the potential sale of 12 FC-1 fighter jets. A joint development between Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and Chengdu Aerospace Corporation, the FC-1 Xiaolong (or JF-17 Thunder in Pakistan) is not in service within the Chinese Air Force. However, China has been attempting to sell the aircraft to several emerging air forces around the world.

The Fuerza Aérea Argentina, the Argentinian Air Force, has been attempting to acquire affordable supersonic combat aircraft for years now. Its last attempt was infructuous. In 2019, Argentina announced it had entered negotiations with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) to acquire a dozen FA-50 jets, the combat variant of the T-50 trainer. But on November 3, 2020, the Argentinian Defence Minister shared a letter from KAI, where the sale of the FA-50 was described as impossible due to six major components being manufactured in the United Kingdom.

Since the war that opposed the United Kingdom and Argentina over the Falkland islands in 1982, the former has imposed an arms embargo on the South American country. For the same reason, the five second-hand Dassault-Breguet Super Etendard Modernisés acquired in January 2018 from France for the Argentinian Navy are currently unable to fly. Due to the embargo, they could not be delivered with their MK6 ejection seat manufactured by the British group Martin Baker.

Argentina needs to find an aircraft free of British components. But history could repeat itself once more. Indeed, to equip its the FC-1 Xiaolong, Chengdu chose the PK16LE ejection seat, another product of Martin Baker. It is not yet known if the United Kingdom will once again block the transaction.

The last chance for the Argentina Air Force could reside, like for many other emerging nations, in Russia. Buenos Aires reportedly sent a request for information to Moscow for the acquisition of 12 Russian-made Su-35 Flanker-E fighter jets.

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