Spain rejects F-35 stealth jets; Focus on Eurofighter Typhoon, the next-generation future fighter aircraft program

After much speculation, Spain finally unplugged the American F-35 stealth warplane. With this, the European nation reaffirmed its financial commitments and budgetary priorities for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS).

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Spain has ended all speculation over the purchase of the US F-35 stealth fighter jet after its Defense Ministry spokesman told reporters that all Spanish energies were focused on the FCAS, which it actively pursues alongside France and Germany.

This development comes in an interesting way in the context of the European aviation company Airbus, unveiling Advanced Fighter Jet Trainer (AFJT) for the Spanish Air Force. This could be an indicator of Madrid’s political decision to consolidate all of its current military investment closer to home.

Airbus advanced trainer aircraft

Previously, the Spanish Air Force had expressed its intention to decommission its current fleet of trainers by the end of this decade. The half-century-old combat trainers will be replaced by modern, data-driven aircraft so that pilots can be trained to fly the fifth and sixth generation jets that are at the heart of the FCAS tripartite program.

If the AFJT deal comes to fruition, the new training jets will effectively replace the Northrop F-5M and CASA C-101 Aviojets on which Spanish pilots train to fly Hornets and Eurofighter Typhoons.

A concept of the Airbus AJFT. (via Twitter)

Simultaneously, the defense spokesperson explained the F-35 issue: “The Spanish government has no budget to engage in another aircraft project besides the one that is already in place. We eliminate enter the F-35 project. Our investment commitment is in FCAS.

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Speculation was rife that Spain was ‘considering’ purchasing the F-35B’s short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) variant after some officials said it could be a candidate for the Navy Spain and if that worked, the Air Force could be next in line.

Chances for the Eurofighter Typhoon?

In addition to the FCAS initiative on which it has now placed absolute emphasis, Spain had previously indicated that it was ready to replace its aging F-18 Hornets that it had obtained from the United States.

Lockheed Martin F-35B
The Lockheed Martin F-35B (via Twitter)

The F-35s and Eurofighter Typhoons were the precursors of the two-phase replacement, as reported by EurAsian Times.

However, with the curtain now officially drawn on America’s fifth-generation jets, it remains to be seen whether the Typhoons will seal the deal or whether FCAS will take precedence over it.

The Spanish Air Force already has around 73 Eurofighter Typhoons, including 59 single-seaters and 14 two-seaters, all delivered in October 2020.

The Eurofighter consortium donated 20 Typhoons to the Spanish Air Force to complete its replacement for the Hornets in the Canaries. With Spain being evasive and dragging its feet on the F-35s from the start, one would assume that talks could have progressed positively for the typhoons.

Spanish typhoons
Spanish typhoons. (Eurofighter image)

As for the FCAS program, Madrid reaffirmed its attachment to the Franco-German initiative and gave pride of place to the development and manufacture of its own combat aircraft. The cancellation of Lockheed’s offer could be either a precursor to the purchase of Eurofighters or a full investment in FCAS keeping the current replacement option on hold.

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The ambitious FCAS program

FCAS is a European combat system program jointly developed by Airbus, Thales Group, Indra Sistemas and Dassault Aviation.

The program which is taking shape under the aegis of France, Germany and Spain aims to develop the Joint European Air Defense System which is supposed to become the basis of European defense policy. Airbus courting the Spanish Air Force for the sale of its AFJT could be the result of their common commitment to the European defense partnership.

The FCAS, which is progressing as planned according to its stakeholders, will consist of the Next Generation Weapons System (NGWS) as well as other modern air assets. The components of the NGWS will be remote carrier vehicles or swarm drones as well as a sixth generation jet fighter.

Europe-FCAS
A model of the new generation European fighter at the 2019 Paris Air Show (Wikipedia)

Teleporter vehicles are drones used for dual purposes of surveillance and attack missions. It has advanced loitering ammunition as well as the ability to carry heavy loads at high altitudes.

This modern fighter jet is expected to replace the Rafaels, Typhoons and Hornets over the next decade if all goes according to plan. The partner state and its defense companies are focusing on different parts of the program. Each country has appointed a subcontractor – Dassault for France, Airbus for Germany and Indra for Spain.

FCAS-graphics
Via Twitter

The development takes place in two phases – phase 1A is the demonstrator phase which is the Initial framework contract involving Dassault and Airbus (Germany and its Spanish subsidiary) with their partners MTU Aero Engines, Safran, MBDA and Thales.

Phase 1B is the second phase during which additional suppliers will be involved according to requirements and consultations to select the architecture of the demonstrators, validate the technological roadmap and launch the decision-making processes.

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The fighter plane will be a carrier and will fly from the future aircraft carrier of the French Navy. Efforts are underway to schedule the test flight of the first demonstrator by 2027.

With Spain now mentioning its commitment and investment in FCAS in unambiguous terms, the program should receive a boost. Whether or not the Eurofighter Typhoon will replace the Hornets within the timeline set by the Spanish government will become clear in a few weeks.

Now the American F-35s are out and Spain is on the verge of becoming European for its arsenal.