Service of Skyhawk with Argentina

Last revised November 7, 2001


Argentina was the first overseas customer for the Skyhawk. In 1965, the Fuerza Aerea Argentina (Argentine Air Force) ordered 50 Navy surplus A-4Bs. They were intended to replace the FAA's stocks of Gloster Meteors and North American F-86 Sabres. The planes were refurbished at Douglas's facility at Tulsa, Oklahoma. The refurbished planes were redesignated A-4P, although the user seems to have preferred the A-4B designation.

The first 25 planes were delivered beginning in the autumn of 1966. However, the remaining 25 were delayed by congressional fears that the US Navy and Marine Reserve forces might actually need these planes because of the heavy losses of Skyhawks in Vietnam. By 1970, these fears were allayed and deliveries of A-4Ps to Argentina resumed.

In 1975, 25 A-4Cs were procured by Argentina, again from surplus stocks. They were refurbished and updated by Lockheed Air Services of Ontario, California.

The initial Skyhawks delivered to Argentina were powered by the Wright J65-W-16A, rated at 7700 lb.s.t. The Escapac 1 ejection seat was provided, and the planes were equipped with the lift spoilers that had been fitted to A-4F and later Skyhawks. The standard pair of 20-mm cannon with 100 rounds per gun was retained. However, the A-4P could not carry or fire the Sidewinder air-to-air missile.

The FAA Skyhawks were issued to four squadrons. These were the I and II Escuadrones de Caza-Bombaredo of the IV Brigada Aerea at the Plumerillo Air Base, Mendoza and the IV and V Esuadrones ce Caza-Bombaredo of the V Brigada Aerea ("Falcones"), based at the General Pringles Air Base, Villa Reynolds, San Luis. They were assigned the FAA serials of C-201 through C-250.

The Comando de Aviacion Naval Argentina (CANA, Argentine naval aviation) ordered 16 surplus A-4Bs in 1971. These planes were altered by Douglas and were redesignated A-4Q. The Argentine A-4Qs were powered by the Wright J65-W-20, rated at 8400 lb.s.t. They were otherwise quite similar to the A-4Ps of the Air Force, but unlike the A-4P, the A-4Q was equipped to fire the Sidewinder air-to-air missile. The CANA assigned them the serial numbers 0654 throuhg 0669. In addition, radio call signs of 3-A-301 through 3-A-314 were painted on both sides of the mid-fuselage. The A-4Qs equipped the 1 Escaudron de Ataque, based at Commandante Espora Base with regular deployment aboard the Argentine aircraft carrier ARA 25 de Mayo. The 25 de Mayo was originally built as the HMS Venerable. The ship was sold to the Netherlands in May 1948 as HMNLS Karel Doorman, and was resold to Argentina in 1968.

In Argentina, the first decades of the 20th century saw increasingly weak civilian rule, continual economic failures, growing class strife based on resentment of the landed elite, and distrust of British interests. These lead to a military coup on June 4, 1943 which paved the way for the rise of Juan Domingo Perón. Perón had been an obscure colonel with a minor post in the labor ministry of the military government, but he rapidly rose in government ranks, and he won the presidency in 1946 and again in 1952. With his equally popular and charismatic wife Maria Eva Duarte de Perón (Evita, the subject of the well-known Andrew Lloyd Webber musical) at his side, he instituted a stringent economic program which stressed domestic industrialization, Argentine nationalism, and self-determination, which appealed to both the conservative nationalist and to working-class factions. His government was a sort of populist dictatorship, characterized by genuine efforts to raise the living standards of the urban poor, but also by quite dramatic levels of petty corruption. He was initially supported by the army, by strong nationalists, and by the Catholic hierarchy.  In addition, he had the advantage of strong trade union support secured by his popular wife Evita.

Evita died in 1952, and some severe economic problems followed. Perón was overthrown by a military coup in 1955, leading to his banishment to Spain, initiating 30 years of disastrous military rule, interspersed by only brief periods of civilian government.

Perón was allowed to return to Argentina in 1971, and he was elected president again in 1973. He died in office in 1974 and bequeathed power to his third wife, Isabel Martinez de Perón. Under Isabel, things rapidly deteriorated.  Increasing economic problems and political instability led to strikes, political kidnappings and guerrilla warfare. Isabel's government was overthrown by a military coup on March 24, 1976. A new military government took over which instituted a reign of terror, known as the "Dirty War", in which government criticism and opposition were violently suppressed by a series of paramilitary death squads which operated in secrecy with the complicity of the government. It is estimated that somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people "disappeared" during this time.

This internal conflict ironically came to an end only with the emergence of an external conflict with the United Kingdom. For a long time, Argentina had claimed control of the Falkland Islands, the Sandwich Islands, and South Georgia in the South Atlantic, all of which were administered by the United Kingdom. In fact, the Falkland Islands were always known as the Islas Malvinas on Argentine maps. In order to distract attention from internal economic problems (which included a whopping annual inflation rate of over 600 percent, a GDP down by 11.4 percent, manufacturing output down by 22.9 percent), the president of Argentina and head of the military junta, General Leopoldo Galtieri, landed an invasion force on the Falkland Islands on April 2, 1982. The 80 Royal Marines and members of the local volunteer force were overpowered after courageous resistance and the Falkland Islands were placed under Argentine rule. The next day, Argentine troops seized the islands of South Georgia and the South Sandwich group.

As expected, the invasion proved to be massively popular with the Argentine population. However, it turned out that President Galtieri had fatally misjudged the situation and had committed a colossal blunder. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided that the Argentine invasion of the Falklands would not stand, and she ordered that a combined British Task Force be dispatched to take the islands back. The first British troops landed at San Carlos Bay on May 21. By June 14, the Argentine invaders had been overcome after fierce sea, land and air battles and over 12,000 Argentine troops had surrendered. During the war, Argentina sustained 655 men killed, while Britain lost 236.

During the Falklands/Malvinas war, the FAA still had 20 operational A-4Ps with the IV Brigade Aerea at El Plumerillo and 26 with the V Brigade Aerea at Villa Reynolds, while the 3rd Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Caza y Ataque, Comando, de Aviacion Naval (CANA) had three A-4Qs at Puerto Belgrano and eight A-4Qs aboard the 25 de Mayo. The Skyhawks of the FAA and CANA carried out several gallant attacks against the British landing forces that were attempting to regain the Falklands. They were credited with sinking the HMS Ardent, HMS Antelope and HMS Coventry and they damaged several other Royal Navy ships. The Royal Navy losses might have been even heavier were it not for the improper fusing of many bombs dropped by the Skyhawks, many of which failed to explode when they struck British ships. The Skyhawks were often operating at the very limit of their range, and they were often without any fighter escort, and losses were heavy, with Sea Harriers, surface-to-air missiles, and various accidents resulting in the loss of 19 A-4Ps and 3 A-4Qs.

The failure of the Falkland/Malvinas operation thoroughly discredited the military junta and led to the resignation of Galtieri from the presidency on June 17, 1982. A new junta took over, but it was short-lived, and democratic rule was restored in Argentina in 1983.  Many of the leaders of the junta, as well as people responsible for the atrocities of the "Dirty War", were charged with crimes and brought to trial.

Following the Falklands/Malvinas War, in 1983 the US placed an embargo on the sale of military aircraft to Argentina. The embargo was lifted in 1994. In order to make up for losses during the Falkland/Malvinas conflict, Argentina purchased 36 ex-Marine Corps A-4M Skyhawks out of AMARC stocks. Initially, they were to refurbished and upgraded by Lockheed Aircraft Services of Ontario, California, but later work would be done at Lockheed's facility at Cordoba in Argentina. The avionics upgrade included the installation of a Westinghouse ARG-1 radar (a version of the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-66V2 multi-mode radar used in the F-16), a navigation-attack system, Sextant Smart heads-up displays, a liquid-crystal instrument display, an INS and an an onboard computer mission planning system. Also included were a Hands On Throttle And Stick (HOTAS) and an onboard oxygen generation system. A new ALR-92 RWR system was included. The planes were capable of carrying the AIM-9L Sidewinder and the AGM-45 Maverick. However, the Hughes Angle Rate Bombing System (ARBS) was deleted. The order included 32 single seaters, designated as A-4AR Fightinghawk, plus 4 two-seat TA-4ARs converted from OA-4Ms.

The first A-4M for the Argentine air force was flown from AMARC to Ontario, California on August 1, 1995. The first five planes on the order (four A-4ARs and one TA-4AR) were delivered to Argentina on December 23, 1997. The A-4ARs have the FAA serials of C-906, 908, 917, and 918, whereas the TA-4AR has the serial C-903. They were assigned to Grupo 5 de Caza at Coronel Pringles AB, Villa Reynolds City. Three more were delivered in June of 1998. The remaining 28 aircraft were to be completed by Lockheed at its facilities at Cordoba in Argentina. These planes will equip 1 and 2 Squadrons. The delivery was scheduled to be completed by 1999.

The FAA officially retired its last five A-4Bs and two A-4Cs from operational service with the V Brigada Areerea at Villa Reynolds Air Base on December 15, 1998. All of the Argentine Skyhawks now flying are from the 1995 batch.

The Argentine Navy no longer operates any Skyhawks. The Third Escuadrilla was disestablished in 1986. The 25 de Mayo was finally permanently moored in 1993 because of high operating costs and faulty engines. In January of 1999, the 25 de Mayo was towed away for scrapping in India.

Sources:


  1. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920, Vol 1, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1988

  2. American Combat Planes, 3rd Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  3. United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  4. Douglas A-4 Skyhawk Variant Briefing: Part 2, Harry S. Gann, Wings of Fame, Vol 5, 1996.

  5. The Falklands Conflict (http://met.open.ac.uk.group/cpv/falkland.htm)

  6. Chronicle of the Falklands/Malvinas History and War of 1982 (http://www.yendor.com/vanished/falklands-war.html)

  7. Falkland Islands Government website, http://www.falklands.gov.fk/.

  8. Air Forces Monthly, March 1998, p 12.

  9. Air Forces Monthly, May 1999, P 12.

  10. Air Force Report--Argentine Air Force, Air Forces Monthly, December 1999, p 34.