The Argentine Air Force (Spanish: Fuerza Aérea Argentina, or simply FAA) is the national aviation branch of the Armed Forces of the Argentine Republic. In 2010, it had 13,837 military and 6,900 civilian personnel.
The Air Force’s history began with the establishment of the Army Aviation Service’s Escuela de Aviación Militar (‘Military Aviation School’) on 10th August 1912.
Throughout the years following World War I, the Argentine Air Force received various aircraft from France and Italy. In 1922, the Escuela Militar de Aviación was temporarily disbanded, resulting in the formation of Grupo 1 de Aviación (‘Aviation Group One’) as an operational unit. During 1925, the Escuela Militar de Aviación was reopened, and the Grupo 3 de Observación (‘Observation Group Three’) created, with Grupo 1 de Aviación becoming known as Grupo 1 de Observación shortly after.
In 1927, the Dirección General de Aeronáutica (‘General Aeronautics Authority’) was created to coordinate the country’s military aviation. In that same year, the Fábrica Militar de Aviones (lit. ‘Military Aircraft Factory’, FMA), which would play a crucial role in the country’s aviation industry, was founded in Córdoba. Despite that, throughout the 1930s, Argentina acquired various aircraft from the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States.
By 1938–39, Argentina’s air power consisted of roughly 3,200 personnel (including about 200 officers) and maintained approximately 230 aircraft. Roughly 150 of these were operated by the army and included Dewoitine D.21 and Curtiss P-36 Hawk fighters; Breguet 19 reconnaissance planes; Northrop A-17 and Martin B-10 bombers, North American NA-16 trainers, Focke-Wulf Fw 58 as multi-role planes, Junkers Ju 52, and Fairchild 82 transports; Approximately 80 out of the 230 aircraft present were operated by the navy and included the Supermarine Southampton, Supermarine Walrus, Fairey Seal, Fairey III, Vought O2U Corsair, Consolidated P2Y, Curtiss T-32 Condor II, Douglas Dolphin, and Grumman J2F Duck.
World War II and Immediate Post-War
The first step towards establishing the Air Force as a separate branch of the Armed Forces was taken during the 11th of February 1944 to establish the Aeronautical Command-in-Chief (Comando en Jefe de Aeronáutica) directly under the mandate of the Department of War. This later became the Argentine Air Force by decree on the 4th of January 1945, which also created the Secretary of Aeronautics (Secretaría de Aeronáutica).
At the end of World War II, the Air Force began a process of modernization. This ‘golden age’ (roughly 1945–1955) was ushered in by the availability of foreign currency in Argentina, an abundance of now-unemployed aerospace engineers from Germany, Italy, and France, and the British provision of latest-generation engines alongside other aircraft parts. In his first term, President Juan Perón brought teams of European engineers to the FMA, nowadays the Instituto Aerotécnico (‘Aerotechnical Institute’), or I.Ae., to promote aircraft technological development. The count totaled to around 750 workers, including two teams of German designers (led by Kurt Tank) and the French engineer Émile Dewoitine.
In 1947, the Air Force acquisitioned 100 Gloster Meteor jet fighters. These aircraft were paid for by the United States to partially pay back its debt to Argentina, which had provided them with raw materials during World War II. This purchase caused the Argentine air force to become the first in Latin America equipped with jet-propelled combat fighters. In addition, several Avro Lincoln and Avro Lancaster bombers were also acquired.
The Air Force, with former Luftwaffe officers as consultants and with the European teams that Perón had brought, also began to develop its own aircraft, e.g., the I.Ae. 27 Pulqui I and the I.Ae. 33 Pulqui II. These manufactures gave Argentina the positions of the first country in Latin America and the sixth in the world to develop jet fighter technology on its own. Other Argentina-developed, twin-engine aircraft included the I.Ae. 35 Huanquero, the I. Ae 22 DL advanced trainer, the I.Ae 24 Calquín bomber, the I.Ae. 23 trainer, the bi-motor combat fighter I.Ae. 30 Ñancú, and the assault glider I.Ae. 25 Mañque, as well as rockets and planes for civilian use (like the FMA 20 El Boyero)
Cold War Period
In the Revolución Libertadora (1955)
The Argentine Air Force came into active operation for the first time on June 16th, 1955 during the bombing of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. Government loyalist Gloster Meteors fought rebel planes and attempted a failed assassination of the President in a coup d’état. The plan failed, and the rebels bombed the city and the House of Government). In the following September coup, the Air Force supported Perón’s government by initiating combat operations and transporting troops and arms with a meager five aircraft defecting to the other side. After the Revolución Libertadora succeeded and the coup took place, previously mentioned operations ceased and most Air Force workers left the country, including engineer Kurt Tank who left to work in India.
During 1952, the Air Force started supplying the Antarctic scientific bases using ski-equipped Douglas C-47s. Previously, President Juan Perón had created the Antarctic Task Forces (FATA, Fuerzas de Tareas Antárticas) to fulfill this purpose. In 1970, the Air Force began operating C-130 Hercules aircraft into Antarctica. The Fokker F-28 Fellowship presidential aircraft is reported to be the first jet to have landed there, in 1973. Since the 1970s, DHC-6 Twin Otters have also been deployed, with the Air Force launching Operation Transantar on October 1973. This resulted in the first trans-Antarctic three-continent flight in history when a Hercules C-130 flew between Río Gallegos; Marambio Base; Christchurch, New Zealand and Canberra, Australia.
In the 1960s, new aircraft were incorporated, including the F-86F Sabre jet fighter and the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk mainly used for ground-attack. During the 1970s, the Air Force re-equipped itself with Mirage III interceptors, IAI Dagger multi-role fighters, and C-130 Hercules cargo planes. A counter-insurgency airplane, the Pucará, was also manufactured and used in substantial numbers. The Air Force also had an important role in the 1976 coup which lead to a military dictatorship that lasted until 1983.
Falklands War (1982)
The Falklands War was the first war fought by the Argentine Air Force against an external enemy. Some operational aircraft were obsolete. However, the airforce came close to winning the war for Argentina. During the war, the Air Force division of the Military Junta was called the Fuerza Aérea Sur (FAS, ‘Southern Air Force’), and led by Ernesto Crespo.
Air engagements began on May 1st, 1982 with the UK’s Royal Air Force initiating Operation Black Buck, in which an Avro Vulcan XM607 bomber attacked military air bases on the islands. The Task Force then sent Sea Harriers to attack positions at Stanley and Goose Green, where the first Argentine casualties occurred.
The Argentine Air Force reacted by sending multiple IAI Dagger, A-4 Skyhawk attack aircraft, and Mirage III interceptors into the fray. The Mirage III went into combat with the Harriers on Bourbon Island, with one Mirage lost to a Harrier. On May 21, the Battle of San Carlos (“Bomb Alley”) began once the Air Force attacked a detachment of British ships involved in the landing in the San Carlos Water. The Dagger and Skyhawk aircraft sank three British ships (HMS Coventry, a Type 42 destroyer; and two frigates, HMS Antelope and HMS Ardent).
On June 8th, the Air Force carried out an operation in Bluff Cove. The British were using the landing ships RFA Sir Galahad and RFA Sir Tristram to position the 5th Infantry Brigade for an assault on Port Stanley. As these ships were unloading and therefore vulnerable, they were attacked by nine A-4 Skyhawks in two waves, while five Daggers attacked the escorting frigate HMS Plymouth and four more conducted a decoy mission over the north of the islands to draw off British Sea Harriers. The Skyhawks destroyed the landing craft “Foxtrot 4”, damaged the Sir Galahad so badly that it was subsequently scuttled and also severely damaged the Sir Tristram, although she survived and was later rebuilt. Fire and explosions on the ships resulted in 56 deaths and 150 wounded; the worst single loss of life for the British in the war. After their attack, three A-4s from the second wave were shot down by Sea Harriers, killing all three pilots. All the explosive ordinance deployed by the Daggers failed to explode.
On June 13th, the A-4 Skyhawks of the Argentinian Air Force renewed their attacks in two formations of four aircraft each and launched an attack against enemy troops and helicopters. On June 14th, 1982, the Argentine command surrendered, returning control of the Falklands, Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands to the United Kingdom. The Argentine Air Force suffered 55 dead and 47 wounded, with 505 combat departures and 62 aircraft losses, as listed below:
19 A-4 Skyhawk
2 Mirage III
24 IA-58 Pucará
1 C-130H Hercules
1 Learjet 35
2 Bell 212
After the war, the UK imposed an arms embargo on Argentina. The United States, however, sold Argentina 36 A-4AR Fighting hawks, a refurbished and upgraded version of the A-4 Skyhawks. Other equipment purchased by Argentina were: 23 US Army surplus OV-1 Mohawks, 22 Ex-Israeli IAI Dagger, 2 C-130B, and 1 Lockheed L-100-30.
Argentina started the development of brand new aircraft, including the FMA IA-63 Pampa, the combat fighter FMA SAIA 90, and the subsequent transformation of the Condor missile into a medium-range ballistic missile. Of these, only the Pampa was successfully developed.
During 1994, Menem discontinued mandatory military service and began allowing women to serve.
Support to UN peacekeeping missions
The Argentine Air Force has been involved in United Nations peacekeeping missions, sending a contingent to Cyprus in 1994 and deploying Bell 212 helicopters to Haiti during 2005.
Early 21st Century
In early 2005, seventeen brigadiers, including the Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Carlos Rohde, were fired by President Néstor Kirchner following a scandal involving drug trafficking through Ezeiza International Airport. Kirchner cited failures in the security systems of the Argentine airports, which were overseen by the National Aeronautic Police, then a branch of the Air Force (predecessor of the today independent Airport Security Police), and cover-ups of the scandal.
As of 2010 budgetary constraints continued, leading to the disbanding of the Boeing 707 transport squadron and maintenance problems for half of the C-130 Hercules fleet.
In August 2010 a contract was signed for two Mi-17E helicopters, plus an option on a further three, to support Antarctic bases.
The FAA has been seeking to replace its ageing force with more capable and more serviceable modern aircraft. The acquisition of Spanish Mirage F1Ms, IAI Kfir Block 60s and Saab Gripen E/Fs were considered, but as of February 2015, all of those deals appear to have stalled; The Mirage F1 deal was scrapped by the Spanish government in March 2014 after pressure from the UK to not assist in FAA modernization over tensions between the countries over the Falkland Islands. The UK has also managed to veto the sale of Gripen E/Fs, as 30% of the Gripen’s parts are manufactured there. The deal with Israel has reportedly stalled for technical and political reasons. China has allegedly offered JF-17/FC-1’s and Chengdu J-10’s to Argentina. The two countries have formed a working group to look into the transfer of 14 aircraft. Russia had also offered to lease 12 Su-24 strike aircraft to the FAA, but Jane’s reported that the Su-24 would not be very useful to the FAA and that “it would appear that any proposed transfer of such aircraft is likely the result of Russia playing political games with the UK over the continuing crisis in Ukraine.” All Mirages were officially decommissioned on 30th November 2015. The A-4s were grounded as of January 2016 for lack of spares; in any case only 4–5 were airworthy with the rest in storage at Villa Reynolds. When Barack Obama visited in March 2016, Air Force One was accompanied by US Air Force F-16s because Argentina could only offer Pucarás and Pampas for air defense.
As of July 2019, the Argentine Air Force and government selected the KAI FA-50 as its interim fighter. With this act being the first step in modernizing the fighter force and replacing the Mirage 3, Dagger, and Mirage 5 fighters that have also been retired. It was also anticipated that obtaining FA-50 would help mitigate the retirement of the Martin A-4AR Fightinghawk fleet, as they were ageing and becoming difficult to maintain. As of 2020, it is reported that as few as six of the Fightinghawk aircraft remain operational. While no specific numbers of aircraft to purchase were given, the media reported that up to 10 FA-50s were considered. Despite elections coming in October 2019, the deal had been expected to go through. An Argentine delegation first visited the Republic of Korea Air Force in September 2016. At that time an FAA pilot was able to test fly the TA-50 Golden Eagle operational trainer variant of the FA-50.
However, the deal appeared to have been canceled in early 2020 leaving the Air Force without a fighter replacement. Some sources suggested that the cancellation was due to the financial pressures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, while others reported that British intervention played a part by preventing the export of an aircraft incorporating various British components. In October 2020, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) confirmed that since major components of the aircraft were supplied by the U.K., the aircraft could not be exported to Argentina. Britain similarly blocked the potential sale of Brazilian license-built Saab Gripen aircraft to Argentina, given that some avionics were of British origin. Argentina was now said to be exploring the potential acquisition of aircraft from Russia, China, India or Pakistan. However, even sales of Chinese aircraft reportedly encountered potential problems since the ejector seats of the aircraft were the MK6, manufactured by Martin Baker in the UK.
Early in 2021, Russia made several proposals related to the acquisition of aircraft by Argentina including the apparent offer of MiG-35 fighters. These built on earlier offers of the MiG-29 as well as on measures being undertaken to extend the life of Mi-171E helicopters acquired by Argentina in 2010 to support operations in Antarctica.
In 2021, one analysis found that the numbers of operational aircraft with offensive combat capability were practically at a level of zero. In addition to only around six A-4 Fightinghawk aircraft being operational, the availability of C-130 transport aircraft was only assessed as being at 6 of originally 14 aircraft. However, 23 light IA-63 Pampa, 12 T-6C+ Texan II and 12 EMB-312 Tucano trainer aircraft were reported operational as of 2021. In September 2021 the Government officially included funding of $664 million in a draft budget for Congress involving the purchase of new combat aircraft. To improve transport capabilities, two Fokker F-28 aircraft which had been decommissioned in 2019 have been refurbished and put into service, the last one (TC-53) in early August 2021.
Hobbymaster Douglas A-4C Skyhawk C-321 of IV Grupo de Casa, IV Brigada Aerea, Fuerza Aerea Argentina, San Julian, 1982
Check out the latest Hobbymaster 1/72nd scale Douglas A-4C Skyhawk available to pre-order from Flying Tigers. Only 800 pieces worldwide limited edition so be quick to get your order placed. Please click on the image or link below to go straight to the model page.
The A-4 Skyhawk was designed by Ed Heinemann from the Douglas Aircraft Corporation and first flew in 1954. Designed as a lightweight single engine attack aircraft it was consider by many to be the most famous ever built in this category. The A-4 was the pioneer of the “buddy” air-to-air refueling concept where aircraft of the same type could transfer fuel from one to the other without the use of a dedicated tanker. . A total of 2,960 A-4 aircraft were produced with the USMC retiring the last one in 1996.
C-321, (A4D-2N/A-4C) No./Construction 12505, ex USN, discharged in August 1960 as BuAer 147741, deprogrammed and stored in AMARC in March 1971, acquired by the Air Force, incorporated in 1976, assigned to the 3rd Squadron of the IV Air Brigade, transferred to the V Air Brigade, Villa Reynolds in December 1983, destroyed after crash, in the province of San Luis, on 10/3/1995, 1st Lieutenant Bordagaraydied in the crash.
Hobbymaster New Model Announcements.
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Corgi Aviation Archive New Model Arrivals… likely before Christmas!
The following models are likely to arrive at Flying Tigers before Christmas. No promises as last year I got deliveries on the 23rd of December ! Here’s hoping I get them in good time.
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