Argentina is a country of extremes: high mountain ranges, inhabitable plains, desert highlands, dense jungle and huge cities. It is known for the tango, luscious meat dishes and stunning Iguazu falls but also for a dark past of oppression and economic troubles.
Before the first Spaniards came along in 1540 and later in 1580 founding Buenos Aires, Argentina was inhabited by tribes with settlements in various parts of the country. The colony was not very prosperous because of trade restrictions imposed by Spain, but the non-native population grew steadily profiting from the general increase in trade and importance of Buenos Aires' harbour. By the early nineteenth century the colonists in the Rio Plata area around Buenos Aires revolted against Spain and finally gained independence in 1816. But Argentina was not a country to be ruled easily from BA and a civil war broke between its inhabitants (unitarists) and the country folk (federalists). This led to the countries first dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas, a federalist who ruled from 1829 until he was ousted in 1852. The unitarists instated a liberal constitution and encouraged trade. The decades after that saw prosperity grow. However, the gap between rich and poor, the latter category increasing rapidly mainly because of immigration, grew wider and wider. The seeds were sown for a downfall of government.
During the 1929 depression the military took the power form the ineffective civilian government but it was not until the mid-forties before something for the majority of the population was set in motion. Juan Perón was elected president in 1946 and his social policies benefited the working class. His wife Eva was influential as well. In the mean time he forged a bond between rich and poor, not always with clean hands: intimidation and oppression of free press and political dissidents was common. The country was fairly stable nonetheless. The late forties and early fifties saw economic destabilisation. A couple of years after Eva Peron's death her husband's government was overthrown by the military and Juan Perón fled the country. A period of instability followed, things seemed to look better in 1973 when Perón, having returned from his exile, had won the presidential elections. Unluckily he died a year later and Argentina was at the brink of its darkest period in history.
The reign of terror that followed was led by general Jorge Videla. He ruled with iron glove oppressing the followers of Perón, who were engaged in some violent anti-ruling class actions. Everybody that was expressing even the slightest opposition was not sure of his life and many people disappeared in this period known as the Guerra Sucia (dirty war). Some kept on resisting, like the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (protesting mothers who demanded to know the fate of their children), but the downfall of the government was due. After a short reign of general Roberto Viola, general Leopoldo Galtieri tried to distract the peoples attention form the economic problems and bad government by invading the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands). After the defeat the military was weakened and so was the country, a downfall was imminent. The military government withdrew and Argentina elected Raúl Alfonsín in 1983. Under his presidency some of the generals were convicted, but the Menem government (1989-1999) really succeeded in making a difference, halting inflation. The situation at the start of this century was one of a deteriorating economy. This has also hit the armed forces hard. In the second decade of this century the economy picked up and although there are no big acquisition programs for the armed forces yet.
Source Lonely Planet
Photo: Cees-Jan van der Ende
Fuerza Aérea Argentina
Military Aviation in general
Argentina was early in its development of a military air element. First usage of 'air power' took place in 1866 when balloons were used for aerial observation in the Guerra de la Triple Alianza (the war of triple alliance) against Paraguay. In those years the aerial demonstration scene was dominated by European daredevils never finding a big following by Argentineans until Christmas 1907 when the first take off was organised by Argentineans themselves. With a hot air balloon Aarón de Anchorena and Jorge Newbery managed to cross the River Plate to Uruguay, a feat that was never accomplished by Latin Americans before (although Americans had done it in 1887). This spurred aviation interest in Argentina. On 8 January 1908 the Aero Club Argentino was formed by a select group of enthusiasts putting Argentina in the forefront of Latin American aviation development. This led to the first motorised flight on 30 January 1910 (by Italian pilot Ricardo Ponzelli in a 50hp Voisin) and the inauguration of the first airfield on 23 March of the same year at Villa Lugano, Buenos Aires. The military showed increasing interest in aviation and the Aeroclub was tasked to integrate military aviation in the army. Eventually, the Escuela de Aviación Militar (military aviation school) was formed 10 August 1912 (later, in 1954, this became the official 'day of the air force').
Photo: Wim Sonneveld
El Palomar in the Campo de Mayo military area was adopted as the home base of military aviation. The early days saw a big influence from the Aeroclub, especially engineers Alberto Mascias and Jorge Newbery because the government simply lacked knowledge, funds and equipment. In honour of their achievements they were granted military aviator status before the first class of officers graduated. Jorge Newbery sadly died in a plane crash 1 March 1914, the Aeroparque airport of Buenos Aires is named after him. Involvement of the civil Aeroclub in military Aviation School ended in 1915 when the military was sufficiently trained to organise flight instruction and air operations renaming the school in Escuela Militar de Aviación in the process. The name reverted to Escuela de Aviación Militar again in 1944 and it is still known by that name today.
In 1919 the first Army air service was formed and after inception of the Grupo 1 de Observación in January 1922, the school was initially dissolved into this unit, but was re-instated in January 1925. After years of operating various small aircraft of European origin (Nieuports and Ansaldos for example), 1926 saw the arrival of about thirty Brequet XIV light bombers. Significant progress in Argentinean aviation was also achieved when on 10 October 1927 the Fábrica Militar de Aviones (FMA) was created at Cordoba. FMA started building Avro 504K, Dewoitine D21 and Curtiss 75 aircraft enabling the first international flight to Rio de Janeiro with FMA built aircraft in 1933. The military aviation school eventually relocated to Cordoba as well in 1937 and was re-equipped with the license built FW44J Stieglitz. Shortly after that a military passengers service was created with Ju-52 aircraft that eventually led to the formation of the air transport group in December 1941 at El Palomar. The first state airline was formed shortly after: Líneas Aéreas del Estado (LADE).
Creation and growth of the air force
As can be read in the general military aviation history part, the flying units were still part of the army in 1940. The quest for independence gained momentum in the forties. A revolution in 1943 brought a lieutenant colonel from the aviation branch to power among others and the formation of the independent air force was imminent. Subsequently, Air Force command was formed 11 February 1944 and the secretary of Aeronautics on 4 January 1945. The air force also adopted its own badges and ranks in the intervening period. Although the structure was in place, much of the necessary infrastructure still needed to be created. Paved runways and both military and civil airfields were introduced and the late forties and early fifties saw an influx of modern aircraft. The Gloster Meteor was the first jet aircraft adopted in any Latin American country. They arrived in 1947 and by December of that year the first unit, Regimiento 4 de Caza Interceptora (4th Fighter-Interceptor regiment) became operational at Tandil. Other typical aircraft of that era were Lincoln bombers and DC-3, 4 and DC-6 transports. Meanwhile the FMA produced some indigenous aircraft designs as well like the Pulqui and Calquin. The forces were no longer concentrated in the Buenos Aires province as other military aviation regions were formed from 15 March 1950 onward. These included six Brigadas Aéreas (I at El Palomar, II at Paraná, III at Reconquista, IV at Mendoza, V at Villa Reynolds and VI at Tandil). Moreover, other commands were formed at staff level further enhancing the professionalism of the fledgling air force. Many of these commands and brigades are still operational today.
The sixties saw the first Antarctic base, Base Aérea Vicecomodoro Marambio, being constructed and the first participation of the Air Force in an UN mission in Congo. This decade marked the last one in which American equipment could be obtained (the F-86 and A-4 for example) easily. The seventies saw some harsh internal struggles that demanded attention of government resources. It also led to the restriction of arms sales to Argentina. The FAA had to rely on indigenous manufactured aircraft from the mid-seventies like the IA-58 Pucara and fighter nonetheless received aircraft from several countries (like Daggers from Israel). Thus slowly but gradually modernising its forces the 1982 Malvinas campaign in which the Falkland Islands were captured from the British could be launched successfully. Although some heroic air-to-air and air-to-ship operations were executed, the Argentinean forces failed to ward off the British forces, which recaptured the islands destroying and capturing various Argentinean air assets in the process.
Aided by befriended countries the FAA reinforced itself again to make up for the encountered losses. Mirage 3C were obtained from Israel, Mirage 5 were provided by Peru. More modern trainers were obtained in Brazil (EMB312 Tucanos) to augment the venerable Beech B45 still performing that job at Cordoba. The Pampa project was started aimed at building an advanced trainer and light attack aircraft to replace the MS760 Paris that was still in service in that role. Due to several circumstances the programme was ill-fated and the Paris had to soldier on. More Tucanos were obtained to make up for the delay in Pampa deliveries as well. With a grim economic situation the prospects were not that good for the FAA in the late eighties and early nineties. Noteworthy light at the end of the tunnel was the arrival of the A-4AR Fightinghawk, an upgraded version of the Skyhawk, in the second halve of the nineties. The subsequent boost in the indigenous aircraft manufacturing plant (effectively taken over by Lockheed) meant another leash of life for the Pampa programme as well. The FAA still supports the Arctic scientific research programme and for that reason, some brand new Mi-171 were bought in 2011. Another long lasting commitment is the UN peace monitoring mission, both MINUSTAH at Haiti and UNFICYP at Cyprus can count on the continuous support of FAA's helicopters, with Bell 212s and RH500s serving tour after tour.
Photo: Cees-Jan van der Ende
Comando de Aviación del Ejército Argentino (EA)
The history of military aviation is detailed in the first part of the description of aviation history on the FAA pages of this website. After the first balloon flights in the 1860s, the creation of the military aviation school in 1912, and the inception of many air units and the Fábrica Militar de Aviones (FMA) in the twenties and thirties, the formal creation of a separate Air Force command 11 February 1944 meant an untimely end to army aviation. Air assets were now mostly controlled by the new command and little was left of the army aviation.
In the years after the Second World War small numbers of aircraft were used by the army in supporting roles until 1956 when the Aviación del Ejército was created again. Throughout the sixties the army command operated various models of Beech, Cessna and Piper aircraft in the training and liaison roles alomgside the FH1100 helicopter. However, the host of aircraft arrived in the seventies. Helicopters like the Bell UH-1H, Bell 212, CH-47C, Hiller H-23, SA315 Lama, SA330 and A109A were received along with transports DHC-6, G222, SA226 and Sabreliner and various light aircraft in the shape of Cessna 207 and T-41D. These types formed the backbone of the Aviation Command at the start of the Malvinas campaign. As with the other branches of the armed forces, the army lost many aircraft and the hostilities effectively led to the demise of the Chinook and the Puma in army service. Many Hueys were destroyed or captured by British forces. After the Malvinas conflict the army aviation was gradually restructured into a force in support of more peaceful tasks like search and rescue, disaster relief, and other humanitarian missions. However, it is still very capable of supporting its infantry with the many second hand Hueys and Super Pumas that subsequently arrived and the Mohawk observation aircraft obtained in numbers from the United States (although only a handful are actually serviceable). With the Huey-II programme, there has been a significant boost in assault capabilities from 2007 onwards. The army is still seeking to replace its A109A Hirundo helicopters with a more potent and dedicated platform. The Cobra was rumoured to be up for delivery early this century, but this deal fell through.
Photo: Cees-Jan van der Ende
Argentinian Naval Air Arms / Comando de Aviación Naval Argentina
Comando de Aviación Naval Argentina (COAN) The history of the naval air arm can be traced back to the early twenties of the previous century when a Sección de Aviación was formed in the first naval region of Porto Belgrano, Bahia Blanca. This was in 1921, only ten years after the formation of the army's military aviation school.
The first units were a patrol unit with six Curtiss F.5L flying boats and the Escuela de Aviación Naval equipped with two Curtiss HS-2L flying boats and fourteen Avro 522 floatplanes. The twenties saw the introduction of various aircraft in small numbers, mostly flying boats used for patrol and training duties until the first fighter aircraft arrived in 1927. This was achieved in 1927 with the transfer of five Dewoitine D.21 aircraft from the Aviación Militár with two more taken up in 1928. Most aircraft in these early years came from Europe, mainly Britain, because the United States were not that influential in Argentina yet (in comparison to many other Latino countries that received many aircraft from the States). Therefore it was not until the mid-thirties before American aircraft started to arrive in numbers. Typical aircraft of that era were Vought Corsairs, Boeing Stearmans and Grumman Ducks among others.
At the start of the Second World War the Servicio de Aviación Naval (renamed as such by 1939) consisted of various training, patrol, transport and attack esquadrillas (flights) dispersed over four bases: Mar del Plata, Punta Indio, Puerto Belgrano, and Ushuaia. San was trying to guard the long coastal line to prevent incursions against Argentina's neutrality. The SAN also deployed floatplanes on board of vessels patrolling the coastal waters, but was hampered in performing these tasks by its ageing material.
The hard felt necessity to re-equip was only to be met after the war when from 1947 onwards a steady stream of American aid resulted in re-equipment of most of its units. Vought F4U Corsairs, Martin PBM-5 Mariner, Grumman Hellcats, Vought Kingfishers, Boeing PT-17, Beech AT-11 and T-6 Texans were obtained and in 1948 the Argentinean Navy became the first South American naval air arm to receive helicopters (six Bell 47D).
Ship borne air assets had always been an aspiration of the naval air arm and in 1958 this ambition came to full fruition when the first carrier was commissioned. The former HMS Warrior was bought from the Royal Navy and renamed ARA Independencia. Capable of carrying the second attack squadron's F4U-5 Corsairs it became the first operational carrier in the South American theatre. 1958 was another important year for Argentina's naval aviation. The arrival of capable Neptune patrol aircraft and the delivery of the first F9F Panther jet aircraft greatly enhanced the range (literally) of operations for the navy.
The next two decades were used to continue the re-equipment and modernisation of the air arm. By the early eighties relatively modern types were operated such as the A-4Q Skyhawk, MB326GB, MB339AA, and Dassault Super Etendard jet aircraft alongside Lynx Mk.23, SA330 Puma, and Sikorsky S-61 helicopters. The successor to the first carrier had arrived in 1969 as well in the shape of the former Royal Netherlands Navy HrMs Karel Doorman named ARA 25 de Mayo in Argentinean naval service. However, this material was no longer solely used for the defence of the country but for offensive actions also. In April 1982 the Malvinas campaign was started entailing the capture of the Falkland Islands controlled by Britain. Although this operation initially succeeded in its aim, the ensuing war led to a defeat and British recapture of the islands capturing and destroying many airframes. The Argentinean navy proved to be capable of striking the British forces as well, the sinking of the HMS Sheffield by Super Etendards using AM39 Exocet missiles is the prime example of this. However, the Argentinean forces as a whole did not succeed in warding of the British power projection that was achieved with great effort on their part (taking into account the long distance to homeland Britain).
The aftermath of the Malvinas conflict brought about political changes. But with a deteriorating economic situation this did not lead to immediate alleviation of the needs of the naval air arm. Acquisitions late last century enhanced the capabilities of the navy somewhat with were AS555 and UH-1H helicopters, Beech 200 Petrel and P-3B Orion patrol aircraft being delivered. Compared to its illustrious history the COAN today is a relatively modest force aimed at defence and upholding of international agreements. The Argentinean navy is very active in various exercises with other South American navies and US Forces as well.
Photo: Cees-Jan van der Ende
Prefectura Naval (PNA)
The origins of the aviation branch of the maritime surveillance agency can be traced back to December 1946 when a group of volunteers started flight operations in support of the agencies' tasks. Starting aerial patrols in 1947 the activities were structured by creating an aviation division in 1951. The service continued to operate small aircraft and helicopters until the 1980's when a modernisation took place. Larger and more capable aircraft were acquired, mostly in France to conduct mission up and beyond the 200 mile division line between Argentinean and international waters and along the many rivers and ports.
Patrolling to discover environmental pollution and illegal fishery along the huge coastline necessitated a dispersion of the aerial component. Subsequently, stations were created at Comodoro Rivadavia (in 1990) and Mar del Plata (in 1997) to complement the 'Oficial Principal Balestra' heliport at Buenos Aires' harbour area and the administrative headquarters at San Fernando airport (20 kilometres from B.A.). An institute academy to study the professional use of its aerial elements was formed at the latter base in 1989. Currently the fixed wing aircraft and helicopters are formally divided into a wing each, although the air stations keep a mixture of types. The service was involved in the Malvinas campaign, losing two of its Puma helicopters in the process.
Fixed wing aircraft operated today are five CASA 212 and two PA-28 whereas the helicopter fleet consists of four AS565 Dauphins, six Schweizer 300 and the single surviving SA330.
Photo: Wim Sonneveld
Gendarmería Nacional (GNA)
The national security force was officially created on 28 July 1938 and is basically a military organisation. Tasked with national security and border guard duties it resorts under the Ministry of Internal Security in peacetime. During armed conflict it falls under the Ministry of defence and in that capacity the GNA was involved in the Malvinas war. Nowadays they are also involved in peacekeeping operations under United Nations flag, anti-drugs operations, disaster relief and anti-terrorist operations.
The aerial component, the Servicio de Aviacion, was formed on 8 October 1955. Starting with second hand material received from the army in the form of three I-Ae.20 Boyeros. Other types followed in 1960 (a Macchi MB308 and a MH1521 Broussard). The first helicopters arrived in the same decade. These were FH1100 and Bell 47s. Various Cessna models were used also.
The organisation consists of five regional sections spread around the country along with the main operating base at Campo de Mayo, Buenos Aires. The main training and overhaul is done at Campo de Mayo and most sections operate only a couple of aircraft. The last couple for years saw an increase of the GNA fuelled by the war on drugs. Some acquisitions of modern aircraft include new Schweizer 300C, Helibras HB350B Esquilo, Robinson R-44 and Eurocopter AS350 and EC135 helicopters and fixed wing aircraft like SA226T Merlin, Pilatus PC-12 along with some Cessna singles. These types are tailored for aerial surveillance, patrol and support flights for disaster relief, which are the most common tasks performed by the GNA in this era.
Photo: Cees-Jan van der Ende