Saturday, December 4, 2021

Spain Rejects F-35 Stealth Jets; Focus Shifts On Eurofighter Typhoon, Next-Gen Future Combat Aircraft Program

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

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Spain has put to rest all speculation about buying the American F-35 stealth fighter aircraft after the spokesperson of its Defense Ministry clarified to the press that all Spanish energies were focused on the FCAS, which it has been keenly pursuing alongside France and Germany.

This development interestingly comes in the backdrop of European aeronautical firm, Airbus, unveiling Advanced Fighter Jet Trainer (AFJT) for the Spanish Air Force. It could be an indicator of Madrid’s policy decision to consolidate its entire current military investment closer home.

Airbus’ Advanced Jet Trainer 

Earlier, the Spanish Air Force had expressed its intent to decommission its current fleet of trainer jets by the end of this decade. The half-a-century-old fighter trainers will be replaced by modern data-centric aircraft so the pilots could be trained to fly fifth and sixth-generation jets which are at the heart of the tripartite FCAS program.

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

Airbus AJFT
A concept of the Airbus AJFT. (via Twitter)

Simultaneously, the defense spokeswoman elaborated on the F-35 question, “The Spanish government has no budget to enter into any other jet project in addition to the one that is already in place. We rule out entering the F-35 project. Our investment commitment is in the FCAS.”

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Speculation was rife about Spain “considering” to buy the F-35B short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) variant after some officials reportedly said that it could be a contender for the Spanish Navy and if that worked out, the Air Force could be next in line.

Chances For Eurofighter Typhoon?

Apart from the FCAS initiative that it has now put absolute stress on, Spain had earlier indicated its readiness to replace its aging F-18 Hornets which it had procured from the United States.

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

The F-35s and Eurofighter Typhoons were the frontrunners for the replacement which was to happen in two phases, as previously reported by EurAsian Times.

However, with the curtain now officially drawn on the American fifth-generation jets, it remains to be seen if the Typhoons will seal the deal or the FCAS will be prioritized above that.

The Spanish Air Force already has about 73 Eurofighter Typhoons, including 59 single-seaters and 14 twin-seaters, all of which were delivered by October 2020.

The Eurofighter consortium has offered 20 Typhoons to the Spanish Air Force to complete its Canary Island replacement of Hornets. With Spain being non-committal and dragging its feet on F-35s from the outset, it could be speculated that talks might have positively advanced for the Typhoons.

The Spanish Typhoons
The Spanish Typhoons. (Eurofighter image)

As for the FCAS program, Madrid has reaffirmed its commitment to the Franco-German initiative and put the spotlight back on the development and manufacture of its own fighter aircraft. The calling off of the Lockheed bid could either be a precursor to buying Eurofighters or fully investing in FCAS by keeping the current replacement option on hold.

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The Ambitious FCAS Program

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

The program taking shape under the aegis of France, Germany, and Spain aims to develop the Joint European Air Defence System which is supposed to become the bedrock of European Defence Policy. Airbus courting the Spanish Air Force for selling its AFJT could be a result of their shared commitment towards European defense partnership.

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

Europe-FCAS
A mockup of Europe’s Next-Generation Fighter at the 2019 Paris Airshow. (Wikipedia)

The Remote Carrier Vehicles are UAVs used for dual purposes of surveillance and attack missions. It has cutting-edge loitering munitions as well as the ability to carry heavy loads to high altitudes.

This modern fighter jet is expected to replace the Rafael, Typhoons, and Hornets in the next decade if all goes as planned. The partner state and its defense firms are focusing on different parts of the program. Each country has designated a contractor – Dassault for France, Airbus for Germany, and Indra for Spain.

FCAS-graphics
Via Twitter

The development is taking place in two phases — Phase 1A is the demonstrator phase which is the Initial framework contract involving the Dassault and Airbus (German and its Spain subsidiary) together with their partners MTU Aero Engines, Safran, MBDA and Thales.

Phase 1B is the second phase where additional suppliers will be involved as per requirements and consultations to select the architecture of the demonstrators, validate the technology road map and start the decision processes.

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The fighter jet will be carrier-capable and Will fly from the French Navy’s future aircraft carrier. Efforts are on to schedule the test flight of the first demonstrator by 2027.

With Spain now mentioning its commitment and investment to the FCAS in no ambiguous terms, the program is expected to get a booster shot. Whether the Eurofighter Typhoons will replace the Hornets in the timeline laid out by the Spanish government or not will become clear in a few weeks.

As of now, the US F-35s are out and Spain is set to go European for its arsenal.

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