The government has already approved the purchase of another 25 Eurofighters

The plans of Spain to replace its EF-18M fighters: will the F-35 finally arrive?

The Spanish Air Force has already started the replacement of its veteran EF-18 fighters based in Madrid (12th Wing) and Zaragoza (15th Wing).

What will happen to the red and yellow roundels if Spain decides to buy the F-35?
The admired flight of a Spanish Harrier II with an F-35B, its expected replacement

The purchase of 25 new Eurofighters to replace the peninsular EF-18M

This Tuesday, the Council of Ministers approved a modification of the spending limits of the Armed Forces, which includes an increase in the limits of the Falcón program and the Eurofighter III Program, aimed at replacing part of the EF-fleet 18 of Madrid and Zaragoza with Eurofighter. In fact, the government has confirmed the purchase of another 25 units of the European fighter to replace part of the EF-18M (C.15M, according to the Spanish military name). This is what the text of the Council of Ministers reference says:

"Acquisition of 25 new weapons systems: Currently, the process of removing the C.15M aircraft fleet from service is about to begin, scheduled for around 2030, so it is necessary to proceed with its replacement. For this reason, the acquisition of 25 new EF2000 aircraft, engines and associated mission support systems is required. To this will be added an initial logistics package and ML2 maintenance level and two high-fidelity simulation systems including their infrastructure."

Artistic recreation of the Eurofighter Tranche 4, the most modern version of this European aircraft, launched by Airbus for the Air Force's Falcon program (Image: Airbus).

In 2022, 20 Eurofighters were purchased to replace the EF-18A+ from the Canary Islands

In June 2022, Spain confirmed the purchase of 20 Eurofighters (16 single-seaters and 4 two-seaters) to replace the 20 EF-18A+ Hornets of the 46th Wing, based in Gando (Gran Canaria) , aircraft purchased second-hand from the US in the 1990s and which are at the end of their operational life (24 aircraft were purchased, of which 3 have been lost in accidents and 1 was decommissioned due to being damaged). In March 2023, Airbus reported on the Halcón program, noting that the version acquired by Spain will be the Eurofighter Tranche 4, the most modern version of this fighter. It will surely be the same version of the new 25 fighters announced yesterday.

Full-scale model of the Eurofighter Tranche 4 of the Halcón program, presented by Airbus at the last Le Bourget air show, in France (Image: Revista de Aeronáutica y Astronáutca).

Taking into account that between the 12th Wing and the 15th Wing there are about 60 EF-18s, the 25 announced Eurofighrers could serve to replace the entire fleet of one of those two units. But which aircraft will replace the EF-18 of the other unit? Or perhaps there is a plan to reduce the fighter fleet of both units to less than half?

One of the EF-18A+ of Gando's 46th Wing, the C.15-48, retired from service in July 2023 (Photo: Ejército del Aire).

The second phase of replacement of the EF-18M and the possible purchase of the F-35

These questions seem to have answers in number 925 of September 2023 of the Revista de Aeronáutica y Astronáutca, edited by the Ministry of Defense. In an article about the Spanish Defense industry in the latest edition of the Le Bourget air show, in France, the director of this military publication, Air Force Colonel Raúl Marcos Calvo Ballesteros, points out the following:

"Airbus could not miss this Fair and presented a new Eurofighter for the Air and Space Army program, called Halcón II. This program aims to replace the EF-18M fleet at the end of this decade in service at the Torrejón and Zaragoza air bases.This program is added to the Halcón I program intended to replace the F-18A deployed at the Gando air base in the Canary Islands."

From this paragraph it could be deduced that the Spanish Air Force would plan to replace all the EF-18Ms in Madrid and Zaragoza with Eurofighters. This seems to indicate a statement that the same author makes on page 687 of this magazine: "the Spanish Eurofighter will be modified to be included in the Halcon II program to replace the EF-18 of Ala 12 (Torrejón A.B.) and those of the 15th Wing (Zaragoza A.B.)." However, Colonel Calvo Ballesteros adds something more in the aforementioned article about Le Bourget:

"Spain plans to launch two programs this year in 2023 to replace these EF-18s, the second also includes replacing the Navy's Harriers."

The joint flight of a Harrier II of the Spanish Navy and an F-35B of the RAF at the Royal International Air Tattoo, at RAF Fairfornd, England, in mid-July 2023 (Photo: BAE Systems Air).

As you will remember, in October 2022 the release of the General State Budgets for this program was announced. The document included a first phase of replacement of the EF-18 with an amount of 4.5 billion euros, with the concept "Substitute aircraft for the C.15M." In addition, there was another budget item of 6,250 million euros with the concept "Substitute aircraft for the AV-8B and the C.15M-2nd Phase."

Spain could opt for the British solution with the F-35B

I already pointed out then that it was possible that this first phase would consist of the purchase of the most modern versions of the Eurofighter Typhoon, and I also added that the the only substitute on the market for the EAV-8B+ Harrier II Plus of the Navy It is the F-35B Lightning II. It would be strange if the same program contemplated two different aircraft, one for the Navy and the other for the Air Force, since defense programs usually focus on a single weapons system, from which it could be deduced that it is very possible that the F-35 ends up reaching the Spanish Navy and also the Air Force, even in the same version.

A Harrier II of the Spanish Navy at the Royal International Air Tattoo, in England, two months ago (Photo: BAE Systems Air).

In this way, Spain would opt for the same solution as the United Kingdom, since the RAF purchased 32 F-35Bs, with short runway takeoff and vertical landing capabilities, to operate them jointly with the Royal Navy, instead of the solution chosen by Italy, which has purchased F-35A for its Military Air Force and F-35B for its Navy. Let us keep in mind that so far Spain is the only Eurofighter manufacturing country that has not yet decided to buy the F-35 (Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom have already taken that step), and that as I have already told you on some occasion, the Spanish Air Force is not in favor of operating a single fighter model, in case a breakdown in one of the planes forces the entire fleet to be grounded.

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