by William Ostrove and Shaun McDougall, Forecast International Military Market Analysts
Recent reports in the Argentine press indicate that the country has plans to purchase over $2 billion worth of military equipment over the next few years. In a letter leaked to El Destape, Argentine ambassador to the U.S., Martin Lousteau, listed equipment needed by the Argentine Army and Air Force to conduct peacekeeping missions, combat terrorism, and counter illegal trafficking. The list, which would be the envy of even the best-equipped militaries, included F-16 fighter jets, Stryker armored vehicles, air surveillance radar systems, AH-1 Cobra Helicopters, UH-60 and CH-47 transport helicopters, and anti-tank weaponry.
The list has become a scandal in Argentina, as political opponents of President Mauricio Macri have attacked him over its contents. Since his election in 2015, President Macri has drastically cut government spending and subsidies. And, while these measures will improve the government’s finances and help the economy become more sustainable in the long-term, they are causing short-term hardships for many Argentine citizens who have been accustomed to receiving government subsidies.
Rumors that the Argentine military is purchasing advanced, and expensive, weaponry during a time of government austerity has angered those who are now suffering. It would be callous, to say the least, if the Argentine government were to spend $2 billion on advanced weaponry while cutting back on popular social services.
Argentina is not, however, planning to purchase this equipment. In February, Minister of Defense Julio Martinez ruled out a purchase of fighter jets (Forecast International agreed with the move as the government attempts to save money). So, that takes at least one item off the list.
Furthermore, Forecast International conducted an analysis of the letter between Ambassador Lousteau and U.S. Representative Pete Visclosky. Based on that analysis, Forecast International does not believe that Argentina’s government has any intention of purchasing the listed equipment.
First, the letter was addressed to a member of Congress. To be sure, as the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, Representative Visclosky is a powerful member of Congress. However, when a nation wants to buy military equipment from the U.S., there are guidelines that it must follow. The buyer must submit a letter of request to the U.S. embassy, which transmits the letter to a U.S. agency, with copies to the Department of State, DSCA, and the relevant U.S. military combatant command. The appropriate agencies then submit a request to Congress. It is highly irregular for a country to directly address Congress.
That, instead, would be more consistent with a request for security assistance. In other words, Argentina does not want to buy equipment from the U.S. – Buenos Aires wants the U.S. to donate the equipment it needs to continue fighting transnational criminal groups. Further evidence of Argentina’s request can be found in Lousteau’s letter:
We are extremely thankful for your cooperation efforts, and urge your continuing support to include in the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill FY 2017, appropriations for the assistance and the equipment necessary for Argentina’s defense and participation in peacekeeping missions.
In his letter to Representative Visclosky, Lousteau is asking that security assistance funding to Argentina be continued in the U.S. Fiscal Year 2017 budget.
Argentina just doesn’t have the means to purchase the equipment it listed. In 2016, Argentina’s defense budget was about $4.6 billion. And, with 73.9 percent of that funding going towards personnel expenses, there is little left over to acquire expensive equipment. Instead, Argentina will have to make due with purchasing less expensive equipment, such as T-6 Texan II trainer aircraft, and upgrading current equipment such as its IA-63 Pampa III fighters. For the time being, Argentina will have to rely on donations from other countries to fill the gaps in its military capabilities.
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The Forecast International International Military Markets series examines the military capabilities, equipment requirements, and force structures inventories of 140 countries, with corresponding coverage of the political and economic trends shaping the defense market outlook for individual countries and regions.