Ukraine to receive two Mi-171E helicopters from Argentina

On December 15, 2023, the Argentine Air Force announced its intention to donate two Mi-171E helicopters to the Ukrainian state. These helicopters, acquired in 2011, have been out of service since 2021, as the Air Force was unable to complete the major inspections necessary for their operation following economic sanctions against Russia.

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Ukraine set to receive Russian Mi 171E medium multipurpose helicopters from Argentina   The Argentinian Air Force will donate two Mi-171E helicopters to the Ukrainian state. (Picture source: Russian MoD)

The recent visit of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Argentina, on the occasion of the inauguration of President Javier Milei, marked a turning point in bilateral relations. During this visit, the possibility for Argentina to offset the value of the helicopters as part of the initial payment for the acquisition of F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets was discussed.

The attempt to return these helicopters to active service has been frustrated in recent years. Initially scheduled to begin in 2020, the inspection tasks were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although work finally began in 2021 under the supervision of Russian technicians, the necessary support from Russia was hindered, first by logistical problems and then by sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

By mid-2023, the Argentine Air Force had deemed it unlikely that the inspection would be completed, leading to the cancellation of the contract with Russia in September of the same year.

The donation of these helicopters to Ukraine represents not only a gesture of solidarity from Argentina towards a country in conflict but also reflects a shrewd diplomatic and economic strategy, aligning Argentina with broader geopolitical interests and strengthening its military arsenal through the acquisition of advanced combat technology.

Indeed, the Argentine government is actively enhancing its military capabilities by acquiring modern aerial equipment, focusing on maritime patrol, fighter jets, and utility helicopters. In a significant move, Argentina finalized the purchase of four P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft from the Royal Norwegian Air Force for $67 million. This acquisition includes three P-3C aircraft designed for maritime surveillance, anti-submarine, and anti-surface missions and one P-3N for search and rescue operations. This deal fulfills a longstanding requirement of the Argentine Navy set in 2015 and is expected to bolster Argentina's patrolling capabilities in the South Atlantic​​​​​​.

In terms of fighter jets, the Argentine government is allocating approximately $684 million for the procurement of new multirole fighter jets and related infrastructure. The specifications for these jets include features like AESA radar, in-flight refueling systems, and electronic warfare suites. The potential candidates include the JF-17, the F-16, the Tejas, and the MiG-35. However, Argentina faces certain restrictions, notably the need to avoid British-made or designed components, a legacy of the Falklands War. This restriction significantly influences the selection process, with the Tejas and MiG-35 facing particular challenges due to their British-origin components​​.

In addition to these significant acquisitions, the Argentine Armed Forces have been upgrading and expanding their capabilities on other fronts. They have purchased six Bell 407 GXi helicopters for search and rescue operations and have received new C-130H aircraft under lease from the US. The Air Force has also completed the modernization of its C-130H Hercules transports and permanently deployed IA-63 Pampa III fighter trainers to the nation's southernmost air base. These efforts underscore Argentina's commitment to strengthening its military presence and operational versatility across various domains

The Mi-17 1E helicopters, developed by Russia, are known for their robust and versatile technical capabilities. Designed to operate in challenging conditions, these helicopters can transport up to 36 passengers or 4,000 kg of cargo in the hold. They have a powerful flight system, with two turboshaft engines that enable them to reach a maximum speed of 250 km/h and a maximum range of 580 kilometers. Their ability to perform missions in extreme weather conditions and at high altitudes makes them particularly suited for search and rescue operations, troop transport, or humanitarian missions. The Mi-17 1E is also equipped with a variety of armaments for combat operations, including machine guns and rocket launchers, making it useful in conflict scenarios. This versatility and robustness make the Mi-17 1E valuable assets for any air force, including Ukraine's, which will benefit from these capabilities in case of a donation by Argentina.

Thus, the donation envisaged by Argentina of these Mi-17 1E helicopters to Ukraine is of significant importance. It represents not only a gesture of solidarity and support towards a country in times of conflict but also provides Ukraine with enhanced aerial capabilities, crucial in the current context.