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US donates plane to Argentina, puts pressure on Chinese space base

US donates plane to Argentina, puts pressure on Chinese space base

The Argentine Air Force will receive free C-130H Hercules aircraft sent by the Pentagon. That was one of the highlights of a visit to Buenos Aires by Gen. Laura Richardson, head of the US Southern Command (SouthCom) this week. However, the military representative's agenda goes beyond this donation and includes the dispute between the US and China for supremacy in space.

The United States is pressuring Argentine authorities over a support base for the Chinese space program built in the Neuquen region of Patagonia. According to an agreement signed in 2014 during Cristina Kirchner's administration at Casa Rosada, the North Americans emphasize the importance of ensuring that activities carried out there are scientifically objective.

As announced at the time, the main purpose of the installation was space surveillance and exploration. The fear, which both Argentines and North Americans have already expressed publicly, is that activities of a military nature, such as satellite surveillance and espionage, exist.

The Chinese site was built on an area of ​​200 hectares, 20 km from the town of Bajado del Agrio. Relocation involves a consular immunity device similar to that found in consular areas: that is, there can be no customs control or migration restrictions for all those who work there.

Chinese space station in Argentina. Photo: National Commission for Space Activities of Argentina

Argentina does not charge taxes when providing communications, transportation, water and energy. The agreement also establishes that there will be no transfer of technology and that scientists appointed by Buenos Aires can only work there for about 10% of the total operating time of the facilities, subject to the approval of Chinese authorities.

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If the Argentine government decides to suspend the deal, China will have another five years to uninstall all its equipment and remove its technicians. The biggest highlight is the antenna, which is 48 meters high and weighs 450 tons.

To Argentine press, General Laura Richardson said the two countries have had a strong relationship for years, not necessarily dependent on elections. Last year, during Alberto Fernandez's order, there was authorization to purchase P-3 Orion patrol aircraft and F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets.

Confirmation of the F-16 fighter jets purchase option made during Javier Mili's administration ended the possibility of China-developed JF-17 Thunder fighter jets with Pakistan.

Argentine delegation inspects JF-17 fighter jets in Pakistan

Also C-130

The donation of deployed C-130s to Argentina replaces similar flights already undertaken by the United States to Ecuador (1), Colombia (3), and Chile (2). In addition, Peru (2 aircraft) and Uruguay (2) have purchased used C-130 aircraft from Spain.

Argentina is modernizing its five C-130 aircraft with changes to navigation and communications systems, new avionics and the adoption of modern equipment such as night vision and automatic propeller control. It has not been announced whether the donated C-130H will go through the same process.

C-130 “Islas Malvinas” from Argentina. Photo: Sebastian Martin Vendola

The news is a setback for Embraer's replacement of the C-130 with the KC-390. While the aircraft has been prominent in sales to top air forces including South Korea, Austria and four NATO member states (Portugal, Czech Republic, Netherlands and Hungary), Latin American countries have yet to sign contracts.