Spain Planning Phased Fighter Acquisition


Credit: Aviation Week

Spain is set to acquire additional Eurofighters and an unnamed fifth-generation fighter–likely the F-35–as part of a new program to replace the country’s aging McDonnell Douglas EF-18 Hornets. 

The Halcon 2 program will acquire 25 Eurofighters and later a fifth-generation fighter, says Revista de Aeronautica y Astronautica, the Spanish Air Force’s in-house publication. Halcon2 will launch later this year.

The article provides no additional details and does not specifically name the F-35. But Spain has long been interested in the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). That is because the short-takeoff-and-landing version of the JSF is the only platform currently capable of replacing the Spanish Navy’s fleet of AV-8B Harriers, which operate from the country’s aircraft carrier Juan Carlos I. The type is also the only Western fifth-generation combat aircraft currently available. 

But there remains great sensitivity in Spain around any suggestion that Madrid could acquire the F-35, given the country’s partnership with France on the European Future Combat Air System (FCAS). 

In 2018, French lobbying of Germany stalled an F-35 selection as a Tornado replacement despite the type being favored by senior commanders. France feared that a German F-35 purchase would mean FCAS funding would not be prioritized. Since then, Germany has increased defense spending under Chancellor Olaf Scholz, opting to take the F-35 and continue funding the FCAS effort. 

The Spanish Air Force publication says the service will “continue to support the development of the FCAS knowing that it is an international program for the national aerospace industry and of strategic importance.” 

The article appears to confirm comments made by Airbus officials in December that additional Eurofighter orders could follow.  

The first Halcon program, signed off last June, sees Spain acquiring 20 Tranche 4 model Eurofighters to replace aging A/B model F/A-18s based in the Canary Islands.  

Spanish media have previously reported that the Madrid government has put aside €13 billion ($14.1 billion) for a two-phase program. The first phase would partly replace the EF-18 Hornet fleet, while second would replace both the remainder of the EF-18 fleet and the AV-8 Harrier. 

Additional milestones planned for 2023 include Madrid joining the Future Mid-Size Tactical Cargo (FMTC) studies that are envisioned to lead to the development of a new European airlifter by 2040.  

Spain will also arm its new MQ-9 Reaper uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS), sign a contract for the development of the Sirtap tactical UAS, and develop a low-altitude surveillance, control and coordination subsystem for UAS called Succaul. 

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.