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SOUTHCOM head nominee pledges to work with Argentina to acquire Western warplanes

If confirmed as the next commander of US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), US Army Lieutenant General Laura Richardson pledged to have a “whole-of-government approach” to help Argentina acquire Western-made combat aircraft, rather than the Sino-Pakistani PAC JF-17 Thunder being offered by Beijing.

During her nomination hearing on 3 August before the US Senate Armed Services Committee, Lt Gen Richardson, nominated to succeed Admiral Craig Faller at SOUTHCOM, was asked by Senator Mark Kelly about her opinion regarding the Argentine Air Force (FAA) potentially acquiring Chinese-designed aircraft to revamp its air fleet.

Lt Gen Richardson stated that, if she became the next SOUTHCOM commander, she would work with the US State Department and with “our Foreign Military Sales and Foreign Military [Financing] systems” to help Argentina find a solution to the FAA's needs that does not result in “Chinese military equipment being in [SOUTHCOM's] area of operations”.

The FAA decommissioned in 2015 its fleet of French Dassault Mirage III and Mirage 5 warplanes, some of which flew in the 1982 Falklands War, and does not have a main combat aircraft. It has acquired IA-63 Pampa combat-capable jet trainers produced by the Argentine state-run aircraft manufacturer FAdeA, but more advanced platforms are being sought.

As legacy of the 1982 conflict, the United Kingdom has an embargo on the transfer of military technology to Argentina, thereby limiting the platforms it can acquire to those without significant UK-sourced components. In 2020 a deal to acquire the South Korean KAIT-50 Golden Eagle light combat aircraft was cancelled for this reason.

Kelly mentioned the F-16 Fighting Falcon as a potential fighter for Argentina to counter China's JF-17 offer.

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