China Out, HAL offers LCA `Tejas’ Mk1A and trainer variant to Argentina

State owned Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) during its recent visit to Argentina has offered indigenous Light Combat Aircraft `Tejas’ Mark IA and 2 seater trainers.  

Sources have confirmed to Financial Express Online: “Argentina will be looking to export from India two variants of the LCA Tejas. First would be its two-seater operational conversion trainer aircraft, akin to what might be with the Indian Air Force (IAF). The second would be the export variant, the LCA Tejas Mark 1A.”

HAL in Argentina

During meetings in Buenos Aires, the executives from HAL met with the Argentinean Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Julio Guardia, on August 31, 2022. Francisco Cafiero, Argentinean Secretary of International Affairs and Daniela Castro, Secretary of Defence Production, Ministry of Defence, also held talks with the HAL delegation the same day. On September 1, HAL met with General Guillermo Pereda, Chief of General Staff, Argentine Armed Forces. A meeting followed this up with Brigadier Xavier Julian Issac, the Chief of General Staff, Argentine Air Force. 

On September 2, the HAL officials also had discussions with Mirta Iriondo, the President of Fábrica Argentina de Aviones, the foremost aircraft manufacturer in that country.

What is Argentina looking for?

Argentina has been scouting globally for fighter jets to replace its aging Air Force Fleet for a while.  Among the possible winners have been the Chinese JF-17, the Indian Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, the South Korean FA-50 and the Lockheed Martin’s F-16s.

In the past month, between India and Argentina there have been several rounds of visits and meetings. Financial Express Online has reported earlier that external affairs minister Dr S Jaishankar was in Argentina as part of his three nation visit to the region. Light Combat Aircraft was discussed during his meetings with his counterpart and other senior officials.

Recently, along with the Indian Ambassador to Argentina Dinesh Bhatia, Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) executives met with the Argentine Chief of Staff, Argentinian Air Force and other key stakeholders.

Partners, not providers: India’s defence diplomacy at its best

With the Malaysian deal expected to be closed soon, state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has set itself apart from others to accommodate the countries. For Malaysia, HAL is set to provide services for their Russian fleets in addition to the LCA Tejas.

For Argentina, the company is open to accommodating the demands of their Air Force. The most challenging task had been replacing all UK-origin components in the LCA Tejas. “It is primarily due to the long-standing dispute of the Falkland Islands between the two,” explained a senior diplomat.

However, it is also a practical ask because HAL cannot go ahead with the sale without a green light from its global providers, including those in the UK. Based on the information in the public domain, in the past decade, Argentina’s efforts to purchase aircraft, including the Saab Gripen from Sweden and later the FA-50 trainer/light fighter from South Korea could not materialize. this was Due to the pressure from the government of Britain.

Also ReadHAL works to add more indigenous content on LCA

Argentine interest in HAL has been building positively over time. Reportedly, in March 2022, Argentine Brigadier General D Xavier Julian Issac, Chief of Staff, Argentinian Air Force, visited India along with a pilot. They clocked over 30 minutes in the LCA Tejas trainer variant at a HAL facility and were impressed by the indigenous fighter.

“A similar exercise was conducted by the Chinese, who flew their JF-17 aircraft to Argentina, where the Argentinean Air Force spent a month with the same. In 2021, there were reports of Argentina down selecting the Chinese offering. However, later on, any such development was denied by the officials. Apparently, the Argentine response was also positive for the JF-17, but the US was able to talk them out of considering the Chinese aircraft,” said an official who wished to remain anonymous.

Also Read: LCA could be a good option for Argentine Air Force, says a source

How LCA Tejas stacks against competition?

Reports have indicated that the LCA Tejas will cost Argentina in the ballpark of USD 42 million per aircraft. The South Korean FA-50 would be several million less. However, FA-50, which the Argentine Air Force has already, comes without missiles, adding to the costs after the fact.

Expert view on what HAL is offering to Argentina

“For export, HAL offers the LCA Tejas Mark 1A, modified Mark 1 Tejas with improvements all around. The best upgrade is the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, a state-of-the-art electronic warfare suite and a new digital flight control computer,” Girish Linganna, Aerospace & Defence Analyst explains to Financial Express Online.

“Tete-a-tete even with the same range as the FA-50 Golden Eagle, Tejas outshines with its more excellent service ceiling, greater maximum take-off weight, and a higher top speed,” he says.

On F-16 Vs LCA Tejas

According to Girish Linganna, “Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Fighting Falcon, has a comparable top speed to the LCA Tejas. However, it has a 1000 KM more range and has about 5000 KG more maximum take-off weight. Interestingly, F-16 has a larger footprint and a better engine to achieve this, but the service ceiling of LCA Tejas is more remarkable by over 1000 M. F-16 has nine hard points versus the eight on the LCA Tejas. 

However, the F-16 sale to Argentina has been marred by London’s predicament over the Falkland Islands issue. Washington might push for second-hand F-16s to be sold to Argentina to check Beijing’s foothold in its backyard.”

About Air Force of Argentina

Argentina severely lacks modern combat aircraft. The size of the country requires a high level of air power to secure the airspace. Still, Argentina misses the opportunity to assert itself. Diplomacy has been a significant woe in the country’s attempts at equipping itself with modern fighters. After its Mirage fighters left, it chose the Israeli Kfir Block 60s to revive its supersonic fighter capability. However, this deal fell through when the US refused to grant the export license for the engine.

India’s self-reliance journey with HAL is a boon for Argentina, as it can reclaim military might with India and HAL as a partner.