Thursday, December 8, 2022

Second Snub For F-35 Stealth Jets? Spain Approves Eurofighter Typhoons Under ‘Project Halcon’

Spain has finally put all speculations regarding the purchase of new fighters for its Air Force to rest. Madrid has approved the acquisition of 20 new Eurofighter Typhoons, as well as a mid-life upgrade (MLU) for a section of the country’s existing fleet under the Project Halcon, reported Janes.

The Spanish Ministry of Defense (MoD) had been looking to replace its aging and obsolete F-18s and AV-8B Harrier II jets for quite some time and the 5th-gen F-35 and 4th-gen Eurofighter Typhoon fighters were being carefully considered.

“We are grateful for Spain’s strong support for the Eurofighter program, and we look forward to signing the Halcon contract shortly, bringing Spain’s Air Force to the next technological level,” said Michael Schoellhorn, CEO of Airbus Defense and Space, at the announcement.

The move, announced on December 14 as part of a slew of other government approvals, paves the way for a Project Halcon contract with Airbus to be signed for the Tranche 4 Eurofighters that will replace the Spanish Air Force’s (Ejército del Aire Espaol: EdAE) Boeing EF-18 Hornets stationed in the Canary Islands. It also kicks off a planned MLU for the service’s current Eurofighter Tranche 3 aircraft.

File:Eurofighter Typhoon AUT.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Eurofighter Typhoon (via Wikipedia Commons)

In order to get going with the phasing out of old jets and induction of new advanced fighters, the Spanish MoD had submitted Requests for Information (RFIs) for the improved Long Term Evolution (LTE) variant of the Eurofighter Typhoon, as well as the F-35A and short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B, as reported by The EurAsian Times in November this year ahead of the Berlin Security Conference.

This purchase was to take place over and above the Future Combat Aircraft System (FCAS) program that it is pursuing alongside France and Germany in order to make its own sixth-generation stealth fighter.

This announcement means that Lockheed Martin F-35, a fifth-generation American stealth fighter that had been aggressively pitched to Spain as also to its other European partners, is finally out of the race.

Spain had officially declared that it would not buy the F-35s and would rather completely focus on the FCAS program in early November, shortly before sending an RFP to Lockheed Martin, alongside Airbus.

Project Halcon

Airbus, a European aerospace consortium that manufactures the Eurofighter Typhoons, had approached the Spanish government with a proposal to sell 20 Typhoons in 2020.

“Airbus is in the process of finalizing the proposal with the Spanish government, and a deal for the 20 planes is likely to be inked in 2021. The E-Scan radar, which is currently under development, would be installed on the 20 latest-generation Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft”, it had said on its website in October 2020.

The Spanish Air Force which already has 73 Eurofighter Typhoons had come up with the ‘Project Halcon’, a wider plan to retire its F-18 Hornets and replace them with the latest-standard Eurofighters between 2025 and 2030.

These 20 aircraft will be the most modern and capable fighters in the Spanish Air Force (EdA) as they will be outfitted with an AESA radar, the E-Scan or European Common Radar System MK. 1 (ECRS MK1), similar to the German Typhoons (developed on the basis of the ECRS Mk0 of the Kuwaiti Eurofighter), according to Aviacion Line.

Under this program, the Spanish Air Force had requested specific capabilities, which are now available on Hornets operating out of the Canary Islands. The goal is most likely to make these Eurofighters more suitable for missions over the seas.

File:Spanish Air Force EF-18 DD-SD-00-02833 cropped.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
EF-Hornet in Spain (via Wikipedia Commons)

They should have the complete anti-ship capability as well as the mandatory anti-corrosion treatment against salty air, which is required for all aircraft flying over seas on a regular basis.

The 20 EF-18 Hornets that Madrid is replacing under are the country’s oldest aircraft. They began as F/A-18As in the US Navy and Marine Corps and are now used to defend the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, west of Morocco. They are mostly utilized for air defense, despite their multi-role potential.

Not The Best Time For F-35?

Even though the American stealth fighter is projected as the most advanced warplane in the world, this is the second time it has lost a potential customer in a week.

Earlier, the UAE had announced that it was withdrawing from the F-35 talks that had been in limbo for a year. Now with Spain choosing the Typhoon over this mighty American stealth fighter, it’s the second snub to American military pride in a row.

Lockheed Martin on Twitter: "Arrived! @USMC #F35 touches down at Changi International Airport for its first ever appearance at the @SGAirshow #SingaporeAirshow. https://t.co/Q2jjtmLu7N" / Twitter
F-35 Lightning II (via Twitter)

Even though 15 countries including the US have bought the F-35, there are many others, especially in the European region, to whom the stealth fighter is being pitched.

With the Eurofighter Typhoon purchase, the Spanish Air Force is set to get a new lease of life. The 4th-generation aircraft are expected to be the powerhouse of the Spanish fleet until the FCAS program nears completion and possibly, even beyond.

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