Indian fighter Tejas intensifies dispute over Argentine Air Force order

HAL offers the supersonic plane as an alternative to the Pakistani JF-17 and is considering Russian ejection seat instead of equipment supplied by Martin Baker

The competition for the new supersonic fighter from the Argentine Air Force has been going on longer than expected, thanks to the interest of several manufacturers in supplying 12 aircraft to the South American country.

Among the main candidates is India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which offers the Tejas MK1A fighter, an Indian supersonic jet currently operating only in the Indian Air Force and Navy.

Priced at around $30 million, the Tejas is quite affordable, but it has a hurdle for a potential sale to Argentina, the large number of British components.

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Since the Falklands War 40 years ago, the UK has banned the sale of any British military equipment to Argentina, making it difficult to modernize its armed forces.

One of the main difficulties has been the ejection seat, whose Martin Baker equips several aircraft, including the KAI FA-50, which was chosen by Argentina before sanctions prevented the deal.

The Tejas is another fighter equipped with British ejection seats, but not only that. The Indian plane also has radar radomes, tires and avionics from UK manufacturers.

However, HAL was willing to replace these suppliers with Indian companies, but the impasse continues with the ejection seat.

An alternative that is being studied is the replacement by the K-36 model, from NPP Zvezda. Although it is a Russian company, India still maintains relations with the country, despite pressure from the West for trade sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine.

JF-17 Thunder (CAC)

Sino-Pakistani competitor

Despite the Indian effort, whose Foreign Minister was in Buenos Aires recently, the Sino-Pakistani Chengdu/PAC JF-17 Thunder fighter remains the most likely to be chosen to replace the retired Mirage IIIs in 2015.

The aircraft was even mentioned in a bill of the Argentine Congress that sought funds for its purchase, but the Air Force denied that it had closed a deal with the Chinese and Pakistani partners.

Pakistan and China have had conflicted relations with India in recent years, which has spurred an increase in defense spending in the region. The dispute over the Argentine request, although modest, could be another chapter of this rivalry.

The Argentine Air Force needs a genuinely air defense aircraft since this function is currently performed on a provisional basis by some A-4 aircraft, which were designed only for ground attack, in addition to being subsonic.