The USA intends to grant a key regulatory approval that could see existing American-made Lockheed Martin F-16A fighters transferred from Denmark to Argentina.
Buenos Aires has for years sought replacements for 16 Dassault Mirage III fighters it retired from service in 2015. However, Argentina’s options have been limited by arms-import restrictions imposed by the UK government on the South American country, following the 1982 Falklands War.
Diplomatic pressure from London has previously blocked any deal involving American or European aircraft, including replacement Mirages, Swedish JAS Gripens, Israeli Aircraft Industries Kfirs and Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50 light fighters.
Numerous western aircraft incorporate UK-sourced components, such Martin-Baker ejection seats.
However, the USA will now apparently grant approval for NATO ally Denmark to conduct a third-party sale of its legacy F-16s to Argentina. Such assent is required under US law for sensitive American-made weapon systems.
A source within the Biden Administration speaking on the condition of anonymity confirms to FlightGlobal that Washington plans to approve the transfer of an unspecified number of F-16s from Denmark, as well as legacy Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion anti-submarine warfare turboprops.
Copenhagen is in the process of replacing its 33 ageing F-16As with Lockheed Martin F-35A fifth-generation fighters. Denmark plans to acquire 27 F-35s, according to Lockheed.
The Danish defence ministry says no decision has yet been made about an F-16 sale to Argentina.
“The discussions about the future of the Danish F-16 combat aircraft are ongoing,” the ministry tells FlightGlobal. “The F-16 combat aircraft will be decommissioned over the coming years.”
Denmark is one of two NATO members taking the lead on training Ukrainian air force pilots to operate the F-16. That training will take place in Denmark over the coming months.
Details around the transfer of any F-16s to Ukraine remain vague, including who would provide them and if Washington will yet approve such a move.
The Norweigan defence ministry confirms it is in discussions with Buenos Aires regarding the transfer of four decommissioned P-3 turboprops. The maritime patrol craft are currently in long-term storage in the USA “awaiting future sales”, according to Oslo.
“Over a period of time, we have evaluated multiple buyers, and are presently engaged in a dialogue with the government of Argentina,” Norway’s defence ministry tells FlightGlobal. “Any sales depend on approval from both US and Norwegian authorities.”
Norway has already fielded five Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol jets – the US Navy’s successor to the P-3, also operated by the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and others.
An approval from Washington – presumably with London’s consent – would come as Buenos Aires is considering a deal with the USA’s strategic competitor China. Argentina is reportedly entertaining an offer to purchase the JF-17 single-engined fighter – a joint production of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corporation.
Andrei Serbin, president of Latin America think tank CRIES, in 2021 told Defense News that the JF-17 is likely an attractive option for Buenos Aires because the type is “out of reach of possible UK vetoing of parts, and at the same time it is the only new aircraft within the budgetary restraints of the Argentine air force”.
The Argentine defence ministry in 2021 requested $664 million to fund the acquisition of multi-purpose fighter aircraft.
Russia had been another possible source of combat aircraft for Argentina, which has condemned Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine but declined to join the West in severing trade relations with Russia.
However, Russia’s own need for military equipment, and domestic aerospace production challenges resulting from economic sanctions, make Russia an unreliable supplier.
In 2022, South American news agency MercoPress reported that Argentina was considering acquiring the F-16, JF-17 and India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Tejas as options for its next combat fighter.
The USA’s desire to counter geopolitical rivals, coupled with the availability of legacy American aircraft scheduled for retirement, give the F-16 option an appeal it previously had not held.
The UK government in 2018 also slightly softened its stance on the sale of weapons to its former South Atlantic foe, potentially paving the way for its NATO allies to conduct the transaction.
“Our general position is that we will continue to refuse licences for export and trade of goods judged to enhance Argentine military capability,” the foreign office said at the time.
“However, where like-for-like equipment is no longer available, we may grant licences where we judge they are not detrimental to the UK’s defence and security interests,” the ministry added.
The US Department of State declines comment about the matter, referring inquiries to the parties seeking to transfer and receive the equipment.
Both the state department and Congress must approve the sale or transfer of sophisticated American-made weapons systems.
Story updated 15 August to include comments from the Danish and Norwegian governments