SANTIAGO, Chile — The Boeing CH-46 medium-lift helicopter, retired from service in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, may get a new lease on life, this time with the Argentine Air Force.
Talking to local media after a Sept. 15 ceremony, Argentine Air Force chief Gen. Xavier Issac said he’s interested in buying surplus CH-46s currently stored with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Arizona. He added that the Argentine government has sent a letter of request to the U.S.
Issac said a delegation would visit the 309th in the next few weeks to check the condition of available CH-46s, and hinted that contacts were signed with Columbia Helicopters, a U.S.-based firm able to refurbish, upgrade and modify the helicopter type.
But a military source in Buenos Aires, talking to Defense News on the condition of anonymity to speak freely, said that “even when the potential procurement of surplus CH-46s is aimed to increased vertical lift capacities for a wide range of uses, the first priority would be to replace two Mil Mi-171Es, ordered in 2010 in a contract worth U.S. $26.5 million, and used since 2011 in support of Antarctic operations.”
The source added that both Russian-made Mi-17 aircraft are grounded because maintenance scheduled in the country cannot take, given Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine.
“Sanctions applied to Russia made [it] impossible to send the helicopters there and even to transfer the payments,” the source explained. “The possibility to have the works made in Peru, Colombia or Mexico was explored afterward but proved fruitless, as those workshops do not have the certification to work on the engines of the Argentine Mi-171Es.”
Argentina gave up on the maintenance plans in Russia last month, according to the former’s Defense Ministry, leaving the future service of the helicopters in doubt and increasing pressure to acquire replacements.
“The idea is to procure a first batch of four CH-46s, with follow-on orders aiming to add machines to achieve a strength of at least eight helicopters,” the source said. “Not only surplus machines in store are being sought, but also those currently operated by civilian firms that may be available.”
Luis Piñeiro, an independent defense analyst based in Buenos Aires, said it’s a “good idea” to buy refurbished CH-46s, even more so if the reason is to replace the Mi-17s for Antarctic operations, “which are a high priority for Argentina.”
“But it looks unlikely that the current administration led by President Alberto Fernández, which is in its very last months in office, will manage to finalize it. [This] will be in the hands of the next government, to be elected on Oct. 22.”
José Higuera is a Latin America correspondent for Defense News.