Argentina has 'very small' budget to buy defense aircraft: minister

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina has few funds available to replace an outdated military fleet beyond buying 12 Beechraft Texan aircraft to train pilots, Defense Minister Julio Martinez told Reuters on Tuesday.

Martinez said actual plans were more modest than those reported by media in Argentina and Brazil in recent months, which said the government was interested in buying war planes from abroad, including from Brazil’s Embraer or Mig fighters from Russia.

“For now, we do not have much budget capacity,” Martinez said after an event commemorating the end of Argentina’s latest Antarctica mission. “We are only buying training aircraft, and just a few, 12.”

Argentina’s center-right President Mauricio Macri has set an ambitious goal to trim spending and narrow a budget deficit after two terms of free-spending populism under leftist leader Cristina Fernandez.

Martinez did not say how much Argentina was spending on the training planes, only acknowledging that the budget was “very small.”

The Beechcraft Texan planes will help replace 24 Embraer EMB-312 Tucanos that have been used in the air force training school for decades. Beechcraft is a subsidiary of Textron Inc making Beechcraft T -6C Texan II planes that are used for training pilots in several countries.

“We will need 12 more, and then we need a lot of other aircraft, medium-sized transport and other kinds of planes,” Martinez said.

A navy spokesman said in December Argentina was also in talks to buy four C-205 aircraft manufactured by Europe’s Airbus Group SA.

Asked if Argentina would need new aircraft to achieve Macri’s goal of better patrolling borders with Paraguay and Brazil to stop drug flights, Martinez said the training aircraft could potentially also be used for that purpose.

Macri’s government is also looking to restart manufacturing at cash-strapped state-run aircraft producer Fadea, which was previously operated by Lockheed Martin and nationalized under Fernandez. Martinez confirmed a report by state-run news agency Telam last week that said Fadea would manufacture three Pampa training planes this year.

Martinez also said Argentina did not have any immediate plans to purchase arms from abroad, denying statements on Twitter from former President Fernandez who said on Monday that Argentina sought to buy $2 billion of “sophisticated weapons of war” from the United States.

“For now no, no arms,” Martinez said.

Reporting by Caroline Stauffer; editing by Grant McCool