Last Updated: December, 2011
Argentina currently has no active ballistic missile program. Argentina's most ambitious ballistic missile program was the Air Force's Cóndor II effort, which began around 1982 but was dismantled in the early 1990s.
Argentina similarly does not possess its own satellite launch vehicles and its latest observation satellite (the first constructed entirely by Argentine engineers), the SAC-C, was launched by the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in December 2000. The Air Force operates three bases, however, that are capable of launching missiles or satellite launch vehicles that have been used for launching sounding rockets and space research activities for almost four decades.
Argentina's main space agency, the National Commission on Space Activities (Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales, CONAE) is responsible for all activities related to space research and development. It was created in 1991 when then President Carlos Menem signed a national decree deactivating the National Commission for Space Investigation (Comisión Nacional de Investigaciones Espaciales, CNIE), which was created in 1960. The decree placed the new agency under the direct jurisdiction of the President, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs presiding over an 11-member directorate. According to the terms of the decree, Argentina "preserves its right to technological and scientific development for peaceful ends" [and] rejects any offensive military utilization of space activities." The decree also specified that all parts of the Cóndor II missile would be dismantled or reconverted and scientific personnel involved in the project would be transferred to CONAE.
In 1982, the Air Force began Argentina's first ballistic missile program, transforming the Cóndor I sounding rocket into a tactical missile. This was done in conjunction with CNIE and the Institute for Aeronautics and Space Investigation (Instituto de Investigaciones Aeronáuticas y Espaciales, IIAE), the branch of the Air Force responsible for satellite development. At this time the military regime was in power and the Air Force largely had a free hand in developing this program. Since Argentina did not possess the indigenous capacity to build this missile, it collaborated with a number of foreign firms in Europe and governments of Egypt, Iraq, and Germany in order to acquire technology. Although the Argentine government returned to civilian control in 1984, the Air Force Chief of Staff retained direct control of the project until the Menem administration took steps to dismantle it, largely in response to international pressure. Throughout the duration of the project, the Zug-based consortium of technical firms, Consen, oversaw project direction with the German firm Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) providing the bulk of technical expertise.
During the project, the Falda del Carmen facility in Córdoba province was the main operation and development site for the Cóndor II and Alacrán missiles. Completed in 1984, Falda del Carmen was designed as a complete plant for ballistic missile design and manufacture. It is a series of reinforced bunkers built into the Sierra Chica Mountains. After the Cóndor II project was halted, the Falda del Carmen facility was dedicated to non-missile activities.
There are three other facilities in Argentina capable of launching rockets: (1) El Centro de Experimentación y Lanzamiento de Proyectiles Autopropulsados (CELPA) at Chamical in La Rioja province has been in operation since 1962, and was the site of many of Argentina's early sounding rocket launches. It was also the site of the three flight tests of the Alacrán. (2) The CELPA at Mar Chiquita in Buenos Aires province is close enough to the Atlantic that missiles and rockets tested can impact in the ocean. (3) The launch base at Vicecomodoro Marambio on the northwestern tip of Antarctica is the main site for meteorological rocket and balloon launches. It also features a large port and a runway long enough to support large cargo aircraft.
Over the last 40 years, Buenos Aires has had a limited tactical missile program and a limited space research program. The Air Force was the primary entity in control of these programs during the 1970s and early 1980s, and its role was sustained due to its performance during the Falklands/Malvinas War. Even after the return to civilian rule, the Air Force remained essentially in control of the Cóndor missile project until its termination. Other branches of the armed forces have never had tactical missile programs. Argentina's space program remains in the process of development of its own launch vehicles.
Get the Facts on Argentina
- The first South American country to have a nuclear power program
- Suspended and dismantled its medium-range ballistic missile program, code-named Condor
- Produces 7% of its electricity from nuclear energy