Argentine Air Force to acquire US CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters to replace Russian Mi-171Es

The Argentinian Air Force is exploring the possibility of acquiring decommissioned CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters from the United States. This development comes as the Argentinian military faces difficulties maintaining its Russian Mi-171E helicopters, mainly due to sanctions against Russia.

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Argentine Air Force to acquire US CH 46 Sea Knights as replacement for Russian Mi 171Es 925  CH-46 Sea Knight is a tandem-rotor medium transport helicopter, originally designed by Boeing Vertol. (Picture source: Wikimedia)

A formal request has been sent by the Argentinian government to the United States for CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters. General Xavier Issac, head of the Argentinia Air Force, indicated that a contract has been signed with Columbia Helicopters, a company based in the United States, for the renovation, modernization, and possible modification of the CH-46 helicopters.

The Argentinian Air Force ordered two Mi-171Es in 2010 for $26.5 million, which have been used for operations in Antarctica since 2011. Maintenance of these helicopters has become problematic due to sanctions against Russia, affecting the transfer of payments and dispatch of helicopters. Attempts to find maintenance solutions in Peru, Colombia, and Mexico were unsuccessful, as these countries are not certified to work on Mi-171E engines.

The CH-46 Sea Knight is a tandem-rotor medium transport helicopter, originally designed by Boeing Vertol. It is capable of carrying up to 25 soldiers in full equipment or a maximum payload of 4,000 pounds. The CH-46 is powered by two turbine engines, allowing it to reach a maximum speed of about 165 knots (about 190 mph or 305 km/h) and a maximum altitude of 14,000 feet. The helicopter is equipped with various navigation and communications systems, making it adaptable to a range of missions, including troop transport, medical evacuation, and logistics operations. The CH-46 has a length of 25.4 meters and a height of 5.1 meters, with a rotor span of 15.2 meters.

The CH-46 Sea Knight has been retired from service with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Gen. Issac said an Argentinian delegation plans to visit the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Arizona to assess the condition of available CH-46s. The initial plan calls for the acquisition of four helicopters, with an option to double the order. Financial terms of the potential transaction were not specified.

The current administration led by President Alberto Fernández is in its final months in power, with elections scheduled for October 22, 2023. It is unclear whether the acquisition will be finalized by the current administration or deferred to the next government.