Points out the F-35B to replace the Harrier II and the risks of losing that capability

The Commander of the Aircraft Flotilla of the Spanish Navy speaks clearly about the F-35

The possible purchase by the Spanish Navy of the F-35B stealth fighter remains unconfirmed and there are beginning to be signs of impatience.

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“We will soon be left as the last and only users of the Harrier”

These signs have recently manifested themselves in one of the communication channels of the Spanish naval force, the Information Bulletin for Navy Personnel (BIP) in its number 173 (see PDF). On page 14 and following, the bulletin includes an interview with Captain José Emilio Regodón Gómez, Commander of the Aircraft Flotilla (FLOAN). In the interview he is asked when the replacement of the Harrier IIs of the 9th Squadron will arrive and he answers the following:

"The sooner the better. With the Italian Marina Militare and the US Navy Marines transitioning to the F-35B, we will soon be left as the last and only users of the Harrier. And it is not possible to ignore that, if the Ministry of Defense decides on this purchase, there will be waiting times depending on the demand and the production capacity of the assembly lines."

The first F-35B of the Italian Navy lands on the aircraft carrier "Cavour" in summer 2021 (Photo: Marina Militare Italiana).

The Spanish Harrier IIs will reach the end of their useful life in 2030

As you will remember, the issue of delivery times is precisely what I pointed out here a month ago: with the new sales of F-35 (specifically to Romania and the Czech Republic), delivery times are lengthening, while the useful life of the Spanish Harrier II is shortening. Captain Regodón adds:

"The 11 aircraft in service in the 9th Squadron are in their last third of life and are scheduled to be retired around the year 2030 since, in addition to the obsolescence of the platform, in the year 2028 will see the end of the cooperative program that has guaranteed its maintenance and updating throughout its life cycle."

An F-35A from the 388th Fighter Wing of the United States Air Force at Los Llanos Air Base along with Spanish Eurofighter fighters, in a photo taken on June 10, 2019 on the occasion of their participation in the Tactical Leadership Programme (TLP) that is developed on that Spanish base (Photo: U.S. Navy).

As we saw a month ago, the waiting lists to receive the F-35s already extend until 2035 (it is the year in which the Czech Republic hopes to receive its first stealth fighters), so that even if Spain bought the F-35B now, it would possibly already be too late. And the more time we let pass without buying it, the worse it will be.

The Commander of the FLOAN warns about the risks of losing that capacity

In the interview the FLOAN Commander is asked what he believes will be the most suitable model to replace them. The answer was easy, although it has become something very similar to a taboo for the Spanish government:

"Currently, there is only one possible model: the F-35B."

In the BIP they also ask Captain Regodón: "What risks would it entail to lose the fixed wing capacity on ships?" His response is as follows:

"Losing the embarked fixed wing would mean a step back in our level of ambition. Today, as has been demonstrated for example in the «Dédalo-23» deployment, the LHD Juan Carlos I It may be operating anywhere in the Atlantic or the Mediterranean, and its aircraft offer CAP (combat air patrol) to the naval force, support our Marine Infantry in their landings, combine their firepower with those of surface or submarine units for coordinated attacks on other enemy naval forces, or attacking targets thousands of kilometers inland. This strategic flexibility is only provided by an embarked air wing of fixed-wing jets."

A EAB-8B+ Harrier II Plus fighter of the 9th Squadron of the Spanish Navy, the VA.18-6, during a display at the RIAT in England last July. With the upcoming withdrawal from service of the Harrier II of the US Marines and the Italian Navy, the Spanish Navy will be the only operator of this already veteran aircraft (Photo: BAE Systems Air).

A need that the Spanish Navy has been pointing out since 2020

To date, this is one of the clearest statements that the Spanish Navy has made about the F-35, but it was not the first. Let us remember that in November 2020, in another interview, the Admiral Chief of Staff of the Navy (AJEMA), Teodoro Esteban López Calderón, already pointed out that the only solution to replace the Harrier II was the F-35, and added: "We believe that we will be able to keep our Harriers in service until 2028.". The AJEMA also said about the F-35 that "it is a program that will have a cost and it will be necessary to launch it in the next 5-6 years so as not to lose the capability that the Harriers give us, which are one of the key elements in our expeditionary capacity."

Unfortunately, the government did not listen and now the F-35B would arrive too late, even if the purchase was announced immediately. No one will be able to claim that the Navy did not warn about it.


Main photo: BAE Systems Air. A Harrier II of the Spanish Navy flying alongside a British F-35 at the RIAT last July.

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