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An Argentinian Wizard in the Ukraine

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Ukroboronprom UV-1 Merlin - 39th Tactical Aviation Squadron, Ukrainian Air Force, 2018

The 'National Reorganization Process' was the rather grand name used by it's leaders for the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983 following the coup d'état of March 1976 and towards the late 1970's the military junta started an ambitious project to create three indigenous combat aircraft consisting of the FMA IA 63 Pampa trainer/attack aircraft, the IA 67 Córdoba light attack bomber and the SAIA 90 air superiority fighter. By 1980, FMA (Fabrica Militar de Aviones) and Dornier had already developed a working relationship as a result of their combined development of the FMA IA 63 and for the SAIA 90 they established a second project office in the city of Córdoba for the development, production and marketing of a new fighter aircraft design based on a preliminary design by Dornier which could then be adapted by FMA to the requirements of the Argentine Air Force.

Dornier's design bore an overall likeness to the F/A-18 Hornet but featured a trapezoidal wing shape and was smaller overall and considerably lighter thanks to an even higher composite content. FMA estimated a lengthy development period of about10 years with a first flight of the prototype in 1989 and with deliveries following about two years later and this was judged to be acceptable. However, by 1981 FMA was in serious financial difficulties which led to Dornier exiting the partnership leaving FMA desperately searching for new partners during 1981 to 1983 including Aermacchi-Aeritalia, McDonnell Douglas and Fairchild but Argentina's severe financial problems saw the project placed on indefinite hold by President Raúl Alfonsín in January 1984. Despite this, the Chiefs of the General Staff of the Argentine Air Force secretly diverted funds from other areas of their budget into the project to keep the SAIA 90 alive during the hyperinflation of the late 1980's. In July 1989 the incoming President Carlos Menem promised to strengthen the Argentine Armed Forces and successfully tackled inflation with the 'Convertibility Plan' allied to a series of privatisations allowing him to announce on July 9th, 1992 that the SAIA 90 project would be relaunched as an indigenous project called ACA'96 (Avión de Combate Avanzado 1996) to replace the fighter fleet before the turn of the century.

The Belavezha Accords of December 1991 declared that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics effectively ceased to exist and established the Commonwealth of Independent States as a successor entity. From this promising new beginning, relations between Russia and the Ukraine slowly deteriorated with disputes over the Crimea and then the city of Sevastopol due to it's role of being the home port of the Black Sea Fleet. Finally, a major dispute flared up over energy supplies and the Ukraine's huge gas debt arrears to Russia were paid off by the transfer of the nuclear-capable weapons that Ukraine inherited from the USSR and the Tu-160 strategic bombers and Su-27 fighters. During 1994 the Ukrainian Government sought a multi-role fighter aircraft that would not align them to either Russia or the West and identified the promising FMA ACA'96 design as being the best choice and opened up diplomatic talks with the Argentinian Government about licence-production of the ACA'96 in the Ukraine. With the Argentinian economy on another downward spiral agreement was quickly reached and the Kharkiv State Aviation Manufacturing Enterprise (later part of Ukroboronprom) was selected as the production facility but with all development and testing continuing to be done in Argentina. The prototype ACA'96, by now designated as the FMA IA 96, took to the air on May 25th, 1996 and finally entered service with the Argentine Air Force on November 20th, 1999.

In Ukrainian service the aircraft is designated as the UV-1 'Merlin' and production aircraft entered service in 2002 with the 39th Tactical Aviation Squadron based at Vasylkiv, Kiev Oblast in Central Ukraine.








Skin Credit: torno


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