Argentina's defence ministry has signed a military co-operation agreement with its Chinese counterpart, as part of an effort to address an urgent rotary-wing shortfall affecting the nation's armed services. Although no details are available regarding the number of helicopters that could be acquired under the pact, Latin American sources say prime candidates are versions of the Harbin Z-9 - a licence-built Eurocopter AS365N - tailored to meet air force and navy requirements.

An Argentinian evaluation team visited China last month to assess the multirole Z-9A and Z-9C anti-submarine warfare helicopter under a wider evaluation of candidate airframes. Buenos Aires signed a similar co-operation agreement with Russia last October, understood to centre on the possible future purchase of Kazan-built Mil Mi-17V1 utility helicopters.

The defence ministry has, meanwhile, released $7.3 million in funds for the immediate acquisition of four ex-US Navy Sikorsky SH-3H Sea Kings. These will replace two SH-3Ds destroyed during a fire aboard an Argentinian navy ice-breaker last month.

Argentina's defence ministry is under political and public pressure to improve the quality of its aviation assets, following a fatal accident last month involving an air force Dassault Mirage IIIEA - the 15th military aircraft to have been lost within the past four years. Just 48% of the air force's more than 370 aircraft are currently listed as active, including only two of its 13 Lockheed Martin C-130 transports. This figure rises to 61% for the navy, but stands at just 39% for the army.

Source: Flight International