Since its inception, Naval Aviation has been a fundamental component of the deployment of the Argentine Navy. Just as with the Sea Fleet or the Submarine Force Command, the lack of light helicopters is evident in various exercises and aeronaval operations in the Argentine sea, especially in surveillance of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

One of the most affected elements, the First Naval Helicopter Squadron has for years had only one AS-555N Fennec helicopter, incorporated into the Naval Aviation Command (COAN) in the mid-1990s with a total of 4 units, to complement and later replace the older SA-316 Alouette III, which, although more veteran in terms of equipment, were more suitable for anti-surface and anti-submarine operations.

After decades of meager budgets, efforts were concentrated on maintaining the capability of the Second Naval Helicopter Squadron, composed of Sea King helicopters in their various versions, prioritizing utility versions over antisubmarine versions due to their transport capabilities, suitable for deployment in Summer Antarctic Campaigns.

However, deployments of units from the Sea Fleet and the Maritime Patrol Division highlight the need for light helicopters to complement the actions of the various deployed vessels. In the particular case of the oceanic patrol vessels of the “Bouchard” class, their projection capacity for surveillance and control operations of the EEZ is limited, having to resort, in the case of recent deployments, to the single Fennec in service or operate without embarked helicopters.

It should be noted that the AS-555 helicopters are not suitable for the required search and rescue missions, nor for troop transport and insertion. The main characteristic of these helicopters is their radar for over-the-horizon missile guidance (OTHT – over the horizon targeting).

Faced with this scenario, the Naval Aviation Command has been evaluating various proposals from companies such as Leonardo and Airbus Helicopters for years, including studying options from the Turkish industrial complex for Leonardo AW109M systems, Airbus AS565 MBe Panther, and the TAI T625 Gökbey respectively.

Although no further details were provided, the proposal for AW109M helicopters from the Italian company would be the favorite of the Argentine Navy to carry out missions from the new patrol vessels. With this particular model, the previous administration of the Ministry of Defense signed a Letter of Intent for the purchase of eight (8) helicopters.

Leonardo’s proposal was made based on the technical specifications required by the Argentine Navy, which needs a new light utility helicopter capable of being embarked on oceanic patrol vessels, allowing greater flexibility in sea control operations as well as search and rescue (SAR). Additionally, these units will be able to perform SAR missions. The representatives of the Italian company also highlighted that the offer made to the Argentine Navy focused on AW109M helicopters optimized for SAR missions, featuring a winch that allows lifting loads or performing medical evacuations.

It is worth noting that, in addition to seeking the incorporation of light helicopters, the COAN aims to acquire an additional number of Sea King helicopters. According to sources, the units sought would be upgraded to the same standard as the last ones acquired at the end of November 2022, registered as 2-H-244 and 2-H-245.

One year after their incorporation, these units participated in the CAV 2023-2024, with one of them (registration 2-H-244) being damaged during operations to supply the Esperanza Antarctic Base. Given the limited availability of this system, the ability to carry out helitransport operations is affected, for example, for the upcoming deployment of the Sea Fleet with the arrival of the USS George Washington nuclear aircraft carrier from the US Navy, with Sea King helicopters being one of the highlighted assets.

Like the rest of the COAN squadrons, rotary-wing aircraft suffer from a lack of units in service, compounded by a shortage of specialized means for SAR, anti-surface warfare, and anti-submarine warfare operations. Given the significant contribution they make to the Integrated Naval Power concept, helicopters are an operational necessity that must be fully restored in the short term.

*Cover image used for illustrative purposes only.-

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