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Decoding HAL's deal with Argentine aircraft maker in Paris

Should India emerge triumphant in future fighter or helicopter tenders in Argentina, there is a strong possibility that Fabrica Argentina de Aviones (FAdeA) would serve as an assembly point for a portion of these aircraft, along with conducting their maintenance and repairs. Girish Linganna reports

Decoding HAL's deal with Argentine aircraft maker during Paris airshow
First Published Jun 21, 2023, 2:21 PM IST

During the ongoing Paris Air Show 2023, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Fabrica Argentina de Aviones (FAdeA), Argentina, signed a memorandum of understanding to explore the potential of working together in the field of maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) and to meet any offset requirements in case of possible sales of HAL-made platforms in the Latin American region. 

FAdeA is an Argentinian state-owned aerospace corporation in Córdoba province that operates analogously to that HAL. The company is responsible for designing, manufacturing, and maintaining civil and military aircraft. 

On June 6, a HAL delegation and the Indian Ambassador met with senior Argentine military officers to discuss potential avenues of collaboration revolving around the LCA Tejas fighter jet and other alternatives for ALH Dhruh helicopters and their variants. This was the third visit to Argentina by HAL officials in a little less than a year. 

The Indian ambassador to Argentina, Dinesh Bhatia, and the delegation from HAL met senior commanders of the Argentine Air Force and Army to promote Indian defence products to meet the renewal needs of the multirole supersonic fighter and helicopter fleets. This meeting was held in order to give continuity to the common work agenda to strengthen bilateral strategic relations.

In addition, members of Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), a company that specialises in the production of defence electronics, and a representative from the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the organisation that is responsible for the design of military aircraft in India, were present as part of the delegation.

Brig Gen Xavier Isaac, Chief of the Argentine Air Force (FAA), along with his technical team, received the Indian diplomatic delegation and the envoys from the HAL company. Together, they discussed the possibilities of incorporating the Tejas Mk-1A light combat aircraft as a new fourth-generation multirole supersonic fighter.

Although Argentina had made its interest in the Indian fighter official in August 2022, the FAA commanders did not mention this option again in 2023. Instead, they focused their interest on the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder Block III fighter and the North American offer for 32 second-hand F-16AMs that had been used by Denmark. 

However, Denmark recently stated that it is willing to hand over its F-16s to Ukraine as part of a coalition of European countries wanting to equip the Ukrainian Air Force with these aircraft so that they can better cope with the Russian Air Force. This coalition is attempting to equip the Ukrainian Air Force with these warplanes so that they can better deal with the Russian Air Force.

In addition to the LCA Tejas, the Indian delegation exhibited its range of helicopters, designed and built by HAL, to the Air Force Headquarters as well as to General Guillermo Pereda, Chief of Staff of the Argentine Army. Both of these presentations took place in Argentina.

An Argentine military mission in October 2022 already put one of its products, the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) MK-1, through its paces. The Argentine military team was looking for a replacement for the ageing SA-315 LAMA at the time. In the end, the Argentine Ministry of Defence decided to purchase six Bell 407GXi helicopters for their fleet. However, the FAA and HAL came to an arrangement in February of this year about the supply of replacement parts and engine repair for the SA-315 LAMA helicopters. 

Prior to that, an Argentine group had travelled to India in March 2022 in order to observe the manufacturing processes for aircraft, helicopters, and engines at HAL.

The Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH-DHRUV), a new generation multirole, twin-engine aircraft weighing 5.5 tonnes, of which more than 336 units were produced in different versions, mainly for the Indian Armed and Security Forces, and the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), a light combat helicopter that is entering service with the Indian Army and Air Force are both other models of helicopters that could have been offered to Argentina.

A HAL team also met with the President of FAdeA in October 2022 to explore an arrangement where certain parts are manufactured locally in Argentina. 

In the future, if India is successful in the fighter or helicopter tenders, it is likely that some of these fighters and helicopters might be assembled in FAdeA. In addition, the repair and maintenance of these aircraft would be performed there as well.

Last year, there was talk that the Indian Air Force would be considering purchasing the Argentine jet trainer IA-63 Pampa III which is made by FAdeA. This turned out to be false at a later time.

The offer made by HAL to LCA could be Argentina's Plan B for dealing with its geopolitical difficulties. By purchasing LCA Tejas, one might be able to sidestep the pressures of both China and the United States and pursue a path that is somewhere in the middle of the two big rival nations. At the same time, the United Kingdom has banned the sale of items to Argentina, which contain British components; thus HAL must find substitutes for the British equipment in the LCA Tejas.

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