MARITIME SECURITY EXPERTS SAY ARGENTINA NEEDS TO BOLSTER ITS AVIATION OPERATIONS FOR NEW OPV FLEET
The Argentine Navy needs to improve its fleet of maritime patrol aircraft for surveillance operations to fully benefit from the capabilities of the service’s new fleet of four Gowind-class Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), according to two experts on Argentine maritime security affairs familiar with operations and the programme.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Argentina’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is a major maritime security challenge, making aerial support vital for locating suspicious vessels, the experts told Janes.
Máximo Pérez León Barreto, a retired Argentine Navy vice-admiral and director of strategic affairs at the Fundación Argentina Global institute, told Janes that he believes “there are not sufficient maritime aircraft and helicopters, and [operating them] is critical to monitor” Argentine waters.
Echoing that point, Andrei Serbin Pont, an international affairs analyst and director of the Argentina-based think-tank Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales (CRIES), told Janes, “There is an urgent need to improve the capabilities of the service’s Naval Aviation unit.”
ARA Contraalmirante Cordero (P-54) docked at the Port of Buenos Aires on 2 June, completing an order of four OPVs manufactured by French shipyard Naval Group.
The service already utilises the other three OPVs. ARA Bouchard (P-51), formerly the French Navy’s OPV L’Adroit, arrived in early 2020. The three other ships, ARA Piedrabuena (P-52), ARA Almirante Storni (P-53) – which arrived in 2021 – and Contraalmirante Cordero, are newly constructed and were manufactured in Naval Group’s Concarneau shipyard.
All OPVs are assigned to the navy’s maritime patrol division (División de Patrullado Marítimo: DPM), headquartered in Mar del Plata Naval Base, and utilised by the Joint Maritime Command (Comando Conjunto Marítimo: CCM) for patrol and security operations across the South Atlantic and Antarctic waters. On 24 June the Argentine Navy confirmed it operates Piedrabuena and one Grumman S-2T Turbo Tracker aircraft.
Barreto told Janes that the OPVs will expand the fleet’s presence and “discourage IUU fishing in Argentina’s Exclusive Economic Zone, thanks to their advanced technological capabilities”.
Contraalmirante Cordero has a length of 87 m, a maximum speed greater than 20 kt, a landing pad for a 9.07-tonne helicopter, two 9 m light craft, and a crew of 40. According to Naval Group, the vessel operates the Polaris naval combat management system and the NiDL tactical datalink system. In addition, the Argentine Ministry of Defense noted that all four vessels are “ice-proven” and can operate in Antarctic waters.
Besides new surface platforms, the navy requires an expansion of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. Pont said that “the previous Macri administration commenced negotiations” with the United States for Lockheed P-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft, which ultimately did not move forward. “The current administration of President Alberto Fernández has renewed these negotiations,” he added.
Barreto said the P-3C Orion is an “excellent maritime aircraft” that will enable Argentina to fulfil its “maritime responsibilities that extend halfway into the South Atlantic”.
The Argentine Navy’s Aerial Exploration Squadron (Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Exploración) operates six Lockheed P-3B Orion aircraft acquired in 1997. However, it is unclear how many are operational. The Maritime Surveillance Squadron (Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Vigilancia Marítima) utilises Beechcraft B-200M and B-200F Super King Air platforms, while the Anti-Submarine Aerial Squadron (Escuadrilla Aeronaval Antisubmarina) flies the Grumman S-2T Turbo Tracker and Fairchild PL-6A Turboporter aircraft.
IUU fishing is a significant problem for the country as an international fishing fleet, including Chinese vessels, annually travels to the South Atlantic. While the Argentine Navy has acquired five used Dassault Super Étendard fighter aircraft from France for combat operations, “the service’s aerial surveillance capabilities must be improved so that the OPVs can be more efficient at intercepting suspicious fishing vessels”, Pont noted.
Besides the arrival of all four OPVs, the Argentine Navy’s other projects include completing the construction of two training boats (Lanchas de Instrucción para Cadetes: LICA), and acquiring a new polar vessel for Antarctic operations, in addition to a helicopter carrier of an undisclosed model.
*Este artículo, que incluye entrevistas realizadas por Alejandro Sanchez, fue publicado en Jane’s Navy International el día 1 de julio de 2022.