WARSAW and LONDON — Russia and Argentina are eyeing a deal under which Moscow would lease 12 Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer aircraft to Buenos Aires in return for beef and wheat, the London-based paper Sunday Express has claimed.
As a result, the British Defence Ministry has reportedly launched a review of the air defenses of the Falkland Islands.
In a statement, the MoD said it regularly reviews the military situation around the south Atlantic islands and would adjust force levels on the Falklands to meet any new threat posed by Argentina.
"The MoD undertakes regular assessments of potential military threats to the Falkland Islands to ensure that we retain an appropriate level of defensive capability to address any threats. We continue to remain vigilant and committed to the protection of the Falkland Islanders," it said.
The UK and Argentina, who call the islands the Malivinas, were involved in a short but bloody war in 1982 over ownership of the disputed islands in the South Atlantic.
The dispute has been given new life in recent years by Argentinean President Cristina Kirchener making reclaiming the islands a central plank of her policy.
British analysts said Argentina's acquisition of a credible combat jet force could significantly tilt the strategic balance in favor of Buenos Aires, unless London reinforces the Falklands.
The Falklands are protected by four Royal Air Force Typhoon jets, Rapier surface-to-air missiles, and fewer than 1,200 troops, supported by a warship.
Doug Barrie, the senior air analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and an expert on Russian aircraft and weapons, said that even with only four Typhoons, the British would come off better in any fight with a squadron's worth of the Su-24.
"I'd back four Typhoons every day of the week against the threat posed by the 1960/1970s technology of the Russian jet," he said.
The Su-24MK is a twin-engine, all-weather land and maritime attack aircraft with a flight range of 2,775 kilometers, according to data from Sukhoi.
Barrie said just how effective the Su-24 would be in the hands of the Argentine Air Force depended on the weapons package that came as part of any deal with the Russians.
"The Su-24 is not what Argentina needs. They have competent crews but they need a multi-role platform not a single-role air-to-surface aircraft, which is expensive to fly and expensive to maintain," he said.
Argentine press reports said Defence Minister Agustin Rossi has denied there is any new defense deal with Russia for fighter jets.
The Argentine Air Force is known to be in the market for a fighter jet to replace the obsolete fleet of Skyhawk and Mirage III aircraft it has operated for several decades.
The possible sale of second-hand Mirage 2000 and Kfir aircraft have been discussed.
Most recently a possible sale of Saab Gripen aircraft was raised by Argentina, but any possibility of that deal taking off was rapidly scotched by the British government.
British companies supply about 30 percent of the new Gripen NG model and London said it would block any move to sell the advanced Swedish jet to Argentina.
Russian jets or the Chinese FC-1/JF-17 are often touted as potential platforms for the Argentine Air Force.
The hard-up Argentine government won parliamentary approval recently for an economic and investment deal with China.
In 2010, Moscow and Buenos Aires signed a deal under which Russia delivered two Mil Mi-17 helicopters to the country's Air Force, marking Argentina's first purchase of Russian military hardware.
This month, the two sides also struck a deal for Moscow to provide four second-hand tug/supply ships to the Armada Argentina.
In July, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid an official visit to Argentina, possibly paving the way for the deal.
Imports of Argentinian food and goods are viewed as an attempt to bypass Western sanctions imposed on Russia following the country's intervention in Ukraine and its annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
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