In the midst of the official silence of the Spanish government regarding the possible purchase of the F-35, information about this possibility continues to emerge.
Janes points out that Spain could buy 25 F-35A and 25 F-35B
Today the information comes from a very prestigious source, the British company Janes, which defines itself as a trusted global agency for open source defense intelligence. On its Twitter account, Janes has published this infographic in which he shows the countries that have already purchased the F-35, those that are about to do so and what it defines as "probable future opportunity." Janes frames Spain and Portugal in this last section (click on the image to see it enlarged).
The infographic indicates that Spain could buy 50 F-35 fighters in two versions: 25 F-35A, the air force version for conventional takeoff and landing, and 25 F-35B, the STOVL (short takeoff and vertical landing) version used on aircraft carriers by the US Marines and the navies of the United Kingdom and Italy.
An estimate that was already published and denied in 2021
It should be noted that this estimate by Janes is not new: it was already published in November 2011. Janes then pointed out, citing a US official as a source, that "the Spanish tender covers both the air force and the navy for 25 conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) F-35As to replace the former's Boeing F/A-18 (EF-18 in national service) Hornet, and 25 short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) F-35Bs to replace the latter's McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II/II+ (VA.2 in national service)."
Janes then added that the selection of the model by Spain would be made in 2025 and that deliveries would begin approximately in 2027. This last deadline would be very difficult to meet today taking into account the delays that the F-35 program in its deliveries. Let us remember that Greece, which has just received approval from the US for the purchase of 40 F-35, expects to receive them between 2027 and 2028 , a very optimistic term, since in September 2023, the Czech Republic estimated that its F-35s would arrive in 2035.
The unreal deadlines of the Spanish government to replace the Harrier II
Regarding that estimate by Janes, on November 16, 2021 the pro-government newspaper El País published a denial, citing sources from the Ministry of Defense. According to these sources, the purchase of 50 F-35s would be ruled out, at least for the moment, although that newspaper added: "Another thing, the same sources clarify, is that at the end of this decade (2028-2029), when it is necessary to take over the replacement of the more than 60 F-18s from Torrejón and Zaragoza and the 12 Harriers of the Navy, the F-35 is an option."
The problem with these deadlines is that, as the Navy has pointed out, the retirement of the Spanish Harrier II is scheduled for 2030. Purchasing the F-35B in 2028 or 2029 is highly unlikely to arrive in time to replace the Harrier II. Buying a fighter is not like going to a supermarket, delivery times can be long, and in this case they are quite long due to the technical complexities of the plane.
What doesn't fit in the F-35B that Janes assigns to the Spanish Navy
Although Janes is a very well-informed source, there is a shocking fact in his estimates, as already I noted here in 2021. The Spanish Navy has 12 single-seat EAV- 8B+ Harrier II and a TAV-8B two-seat training aircraft, in total 13 aircraft. Thus, the figure of 25 F-35B fighters for the Spanish Navy does not match its current number of Harriers. The only possible explanation would be that a new aircraft carrier like the "Juan Carlos I" L-61 is planned and that a second fighter squadron is needed, but at the moment there is no news that the government has plans in that regard.
Main photo: U.S. Navy. An F-35A of the 388th Fighter Wing of the US Air Force (USAF) at Los Llanos Air Base, in Albacete (Spain) on June 10, 2019, where it attended to participate in the Tactical Leadership Programme. (TLP) that is taught on that basis.
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