For that year, the newest Spanish EF-18s would already have 45 years of service

The fighter that Spain could consider so as not to extend the life of its EF-18 Hornet until 2035

This week, the Council of Ministers of Spain has approved a measure that gives rise to very bad omens about the future of its air force.

The withdrawal in León of an EF-18 Spanish fighter of the 46th Wing that flew with the US Marines
The military purchases that Spain plans: MPA, MLRS and a substitute for the EF-18 and Harrier II

The government's decision to extend the life of the EF-18 until 2035

On Tuesday, Moncloa published two decisions on the acquisition of spare parts, components and accessories for the EF-18 fighters of the Air Force. The two agreements contain the same phrase that has already generated various headlines in the media: "continue to operate until 2035, when it is expected that it can be replaced by a new model". Thus, the government expects these already old fighters to be in service for another 12 years. This is utter nonsense.

Two EF-18M of the 12th Wing of the Air Force (Photo: Hesja).

In 2035 the newest Spanish EF-18s would already have 45 years of service

Recall that the Spanish EF-18s were purchased in two batches. The first 72 fighters (60 EF-18A single-seaters and 12 EF-18B two-seaters) arrived between 1986 and 1990, being successively upgraded to the EF-18A+ and EF-18B+ versions and later to the EF versions -18M and EF-18BM. In 1992 24 second-hand F/A-18As were purchased from the US Navy, which were delivered between 1996 and 1998. These aircraft were assigned to Wing 46 in Gando (Canary Islands), being the oldest in the fleet and those that will soon be replaced. Last year the purchase of 20 Eurofighter Typhoons was announced to replace them.

Thus, the newest Spanish EF-18s will have 45 years of service in 2035. By now those planes should be retired. In 2015 I already pointed out that its useful life was expected to be extended until 2020. So, there should already be a solution to replace them, but the Spanish government has refused to buy the F-35, which is the fighter that most of our European partners are buying.

A Eurofighter Typhoon from the 11th Wing of the Air Force (Photo: Koos Heemskerk/Ejército del Aire).

Prudence recommends not having only Eurofighters

The Spanish government seems more inclined to continue buying Eurofighters, but this clashes with the criteria of the Air Force, which has always preferred to operate at least two different fighter models as a matter of prudence, in case a specific fighter had a problem that forced the entire fleet to be immobilized . Thus, a combat force made up only of Eurofighters would not be a good solution, and in the medium or long term it would only postpone the problem, since we would also have to find a substitute for the European fighter.

The forecasts that exist on the FCAS

The deadlines that the government is considering seem to point to wait for the arrival of the FCAS, the new sixth-generation fighter that Germany, Spain and France are working on. In 2021, the forecast was that the first FCAS would be ready in 2027 and that it would enter service in 2040, but as is usually the case with European projects, the deadlines have begun to stretch, and the disagreements between Germany and France have postponed the first flight until 2029. It will be very difficult for that aircraft, if it is made, to enter service in 2040.

An artist rendering of the future FCAS fighter (Image: Dassault Aviation).

An American alternative: the Super Hornet

The most sensible solution would be to acquire the F-35 now, but in the absence of good sense, at least the Spanish government could consider another option: a very capable American fighter, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. This aircraft made its maiden flight in 1995 and has been in service since 1999. Boeing plans to keep it in production until 2025, so Spain could have new aircraft that would more than guarantee an operational life beyond the entry into service of the FCAS. It might also consider buying second-hand aircraft that have been withdrawn from US Navy service, which is replacing them with the F-35C.

A US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet (Photo: U.S Navy).

Obviously, buying the Super Hornet is not the best option Spain has, but it is a great alternative to the insistent refusal to buy the F-35. The Super Hornet is an aircraft that has already been well proven in combat situations and, in addition, shares some of its components with the F/A-18 Hornet, so that already being stingy in the cost of defense, Spain could even take advantage of some of the components and spare parts that it already has for its EF-18s.


Main photo: Ejército del Aire.

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