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Fewer fighters: Combat aviation struggles to stay aloft in Latin America

Argentina's few remaining A-4ARs have effectively served out their lifespans. The future of the fleet is unclear. (Santiago Rivas)

Latin American fighter fleets were regularly modernised through the 1980s, with aircraft such as the French Mirage family, British Hawker Hunter, and American F-5 Tiger II and A-4 Skyhawk flying routinely. Most regional air forces have since seen their budgets constrained and fleet renewals restricted in terms of size and capability.

Today, many Latin American countries have small fleets of old aircraft, while others like Ecuador have completely abandoned combat aviation. With many of these older aircraft at the end of their operational life, some air forces are now moving ahead with replacements, while others make do with legacy fleets. Replacement programmes are progressing slowly in most cases.


Despite significant budget cuts, the Argentine Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Argentina: FAA) has sought new fighters since the 1980s. As early as 1991, the service expressed interest in buying F-16s. This first attempt was denied by the US government, which instead in 1995 offered a batch of A-4M Skyhawks, modernised to A-4AR Fightinghawk standard. Plans to update the Mirage fleet came to naught, as did several rounds of negotiation to purchase second-hand F-16s, Mirage F1s, Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Kfirs, F-5s, Mirage 2000s, and Chengdu JF-17s, among others. The 2015 retirement of the Mirage fleet and gradual degradation of the A-4s left the FAA with little combat capability. At the time, the Argentine government displayed interest in the Gripen NG, the same model Brazil ordered, but the United Kingdom declined to authorise the export of aircraft with British components to Argentina.

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