The Argentine Air Force (FAA) has bolstered its combat presence at Base Aérea Militar (BAM) Río Gallegos – the nation’s southernmost air base – after the air arm revealed it would permanently deploy three IA-63 Pampa III fighter-trainers to the facility.
The move was announced during a ceremony at the base, which is located in Argentina’s Santa Cruz province, on February 7 – an event that was attended by the commander of the FAA, Brig Gen Xavier Isaac, and the Argentine Defense Minister, Jorge Taiana. The three Pampa IIIs were transferred to BAM Río Gallegos from Grupo Aéreo 6 de Caza (a part of VI Brigada Aérea at Tandil) and will share the air base with the resident de Havilland DHC-6-200 Twin Otter squadron. The FAA is looking to increase its presence in the south of the country and, in the near future, BAM Río Gallegos will be upgraded and renamed as X Brigada Aérea.
This title was previously held between 1984 and 1996, when Dassault Mirage IIIC and Mirage 5PA Mara fighters were actively based from Río Gallegos. Since 1997, the FAA has regularly performed exercises where different Mirage, IA-58 Pucará, Pampa and A-4AR Fightinghawk units would deploy to the base for a couple of weeks and tasked with carrying out air-to-air/ground operations.
In addition, the FAA is also willing to send two Mil Mi-171E Hip-H tactical transport helicopters to Río Gallegos once both airframes have been returned to operational service following the completion of their major overhaul. The Argentine Pampa fleet will surely be increased as more Pampa IIs are converted to Pampa III-standard. This upgrade process is currently taking place at Fabrica Argentina de Aviones’ (FAdeA’s) facilities in Córdoba.
While the Pampa III is not a multi-role fighter, which is what the FAA requires for this tasking, the platform will be still be a very important asset for this region until a fourth-generation fighter is finally acquired. The jets will operate alongside the two 3D radars that are already operational at Río Gallegos and Río Grande to control and safeguard the airspace in this area of Argentina.