Form the period of 1996 to 1999 Lockheed Martin converted thirty-six A-4M "Skyhawk" fighter-bombers to the newer A-4AR "Fightinghawk" standard for the Argentina Air Force. Argentina became the McDonnell product's first export customer when it accepted delivery of A-4P and A-4Q models during the mid-1960s. A prototype completed its first flight in December of 1997 and 32 fighter / ground attack forms (A-4AR) followed along with four dual-seat trainers (OA-4AR). While the line has seen steadily decreasing numbers within the active inventory of the Argentine Air Force over the years, it maintains an "active" status.
Origins of the Fightinghawk lay in the 1980s which saw a worsening political and economic situation hit the South American power - particularly as it took to war against Britain in the Falklands War of 1982. As such, procurement of more modern, yet expensive, aircraft proved prohibitive save for a few exceptions - mainly purchase of used combat platforms from anywhere but the United States and Britain. This resulted in a hodge-podge of aging units being formed until 1989 when a pro-U.S. agenda was established with the new incoming Argentine government. This, in turn, led to an agreement between the United States and Argentina to have the Argentine Air Force stock of Skyhawks upgraded to a more modern fighting standard. The work was completed by American industry powerhouse Lockheed Martin which introduced F-16 Fighting Falcon avionics and other changes to the lightweight fighter-bomber - thus giving the revised aircraft the name of "Fightinghawk".
Changes to the design included all-new ejection seats, reworking of the Pratt & Whitney J52P turbojet engines, new pilot helmets and onboard CounterMeasures (CM) kit, modern jamming equipment, installation of modern avionics, Head-Up Display (HUD), a new Inertial Navigation System (INS), Identification Friend-or-Foe (IFF) system, Hands-on-Throttle-and-Stick (HOTAS) cockpit control, color CRT cockpit screens, the ARG-1 radar fit (APG-66 series) and the like. The process included delivery of an A-4AR simulator for ground-based pilot training.
As completed, the A-4AR exhibited an empty weight of 10,800lb against a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 24,500lb. Power was from a Pratt & Whitney J52P-408A turbojet engine of 11,200lb thrust propelling the aircraft to speeds of 670 miles per hour, a range out to 2,000 miles, and a service up to 42,250 feet. Rate-of-climb reached 8,440 feet per minute. Armament remained the original 2 x 20mm Colt Mk 12 internal cannons fit with five external hardpoints carrying missiles, rocket pods, and bombs.
Eight Fightinghawks were completed by Lockheed Martin on U.S. soil with the remainder of the aircraft batch rebuilt locally in Argentina. The first was rolled out in August of 1998 and the last one followed in March of 2000 where, once in service, they were quick to replace the outgoing inventory of aging Skyhawk B- and C-models.
A rather uneventful career followed these aircraft as they mostly took part in local exercises and non-combat operations. In early 2016 it was announced that the fleet was grounded / mothballed for the foreseeable future due to emerging issues mainly related to age. Many have ended up in storage leaving about a handful in flyable condition. Two A-4AR are also known to have been lost to accidents joining a single OA-4AR also lost.