There was a time when the Fuerza Aérea Argentina (Argentine Air Force) was considered to be one of the best Air Forces in Latin America, if not the world. Created into its own independent entity out of the Argentine Army in 1945, the Argentine Air Force began a massive modernization program which saw them becoming the first country in South America to operate jet aircraft.

This occurred when they took delivery of British made Gloster Meteors in 1947. As well as operating a formidable bomber force that was made up of Avro Lincolns and Lancasters, all of which were also acquired from Britain.

Argentine Avro Lincon
Argentine Air Force Avro Lincon

In later years, Argentina went as far as attempting to develop their own indigenous jet aircraft with the aid of former Luftwaffe personnel and other German engineers. A program which resulted in the creation of the FMA IAe 33Pulqui II, making Argentina the first country in Latin America to develop its own jet aircraft and 6th in the world to do so. Even though the Pulqui never entered service (the Government had decided to purchase F-86 Sabers from the U.S. Instead.) , it still showed just what the Argentine Air Force was truly capable of and as the years passed, they continued to build up its fleet by adding newer and more advanced aircraft to its already impressive line up.

FMA IAe 33 Pulqui II
FMA IAe 33 Pulqui II

But that all changed in the 1980’s, the Falklands War in 1982. Where in an attempt to shift attention away from their troubled economy, the Military Junta which ruled the Latin American country at the time, invaded the British Territories of East and West Falklands.

Thinking that the British government (who had supplied Argentina with a number of military equipment in the years before the invasion) would be unable, if not unwilling, to commit military forces to retake the islands.

The resulting conflict saw the Argentine Air Force sustain heavy losses, losing dozens of fighters, helicopters, cargo aircraft, and even two Canberra Bombers, the majority of which were shot down by Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Harrier jets.

Many had believed to be no match for Argentina’s fleet of supersonic Mirage jet fighters.

By contrast, the Argentine Air Force could only boast of one air to air kill when 2 IA-58 counter-insurgency aircraft shot down a scout helicopter during the battle of Goose Green. Even though both the air force and navy had gained some successes during the conflict, it still was not enough to secure a victory for Argentina as the British were able to retake the islands just after two months since the war began. It also did not help that a number of aircraft and equipment had been captured and shipped back to Britain after the Argentine surrender.

 

Argentine Dagger attacks the British fleet in San Carlos Bay
Argentine Dagger attacks the British fleet in San Carlos Bay

The years following the war saw the Argentine military as a whole and especially the Argentine Air Force , took a sharp decline as the country’s economy worsened and traditional arms suppliers placed arms embargos on their former client.

This saw the Latin American nation unable to procure new assets. After some of these embargoes were lifted in the 1990s and Argentina was able to acquire upgraded A-4s from the United States, the military still continued their steady decline throughout the decade and into the 2000s.

Today, the Argentine Air Force is nothing more than a shadow of its former self. 2015 saw the Argentine Air Force retiring their remaining Mirage and Dagger Fighters, as their airframes had reached a point where they were no longer safe to fly.

Leaving only their remaining fleet of A-4AR “Fighthawks” and IA-63 advanced jet trainers to fill the gap left by these aircraft. Both of which are unsuited for air to air combat and are largely outmatched by aircraft used by their neighbors Chile and Brazil. Even more so, a shortage of spare parts could also see their A-4 fleet being grounded in the near future.

 

A-4AR "Fighthawks" which were upgraded with F-16 components.
A-4AR “Fighthawks” which were upgraded with F-16 components.

Recent attempts to acquire new aircraft such as the Chinese JF-17, the Swedish Saab Gripen (which is made with British components) and even secondhand Kifr jets from Israel have all failed due to either technological, political, or economic restrictions suffered by the Argentine government.

Problems in the air force also extend to their fleet of C-130 transport aircraft, as their airframes are starting to show their age. These aircraft provide a vital component of the air force, as they are used to not only supply Argentina’s arctic bases, but also assist in supplying their peace keeping contingents in Haiti and Cyprus. Though these aircraft have undergone major upgrades, and Argentina has shown interest in acquiring new aircraft to replace the C-130s, it is unknown whether if they would be able to keep their current fleet flying for long, or even if they will have a transport wing as the economic situation in the country worsens.

It is believed that in the years to come,  the Argentine Air Force will cease to exist as a major military component of the Argentine Armed Forces and with an economy in shambles and embargoes still in place due to the Falklands war, it is still unknown whether if the Argentine Air Force will ever fully recover. It is possible that what was once Latin America’s most formidable air forces, maybe flying into the sunset for the last time.