The Spanish Navy could lose the capacity it has with its Harrier IIs

The US Department of Defense sets a deadline for Spain to acquire the F-35B fighter

In the last few hours, several media have indicated that the US has signed two contracts to extend the useful life of the Spanish Harrier II.

The Commander of the Aircraft Flotilla of the Spanish Navy speaks clearly about the F-35
The Spanish Air Force magazine points out the F-35B as a 'natural replacement' for the Spanish Harriers

The US publishes two contracts for the maintenance of the Harrier II

On March 27, on its official website, the US Defense Department published two contracts related to the Spanish Harrier II. The first, for an amount of $13,674,435, is directed to Boeing to "provide continued post-production support (PPS) for the T/AV-8B Harrier to include readiness improvements, upgrades, correction of deficiencies and issues related to structural fatigue."

Two McDonell Douglas EAV-8B+ Harrier IIs (VA.1B-35/01-923, left, and VA.1B-36/01-924, right) of the 9th Squadron on the flight deck of L-61 ( Photo: Contando Estrelas).

Harrier II maintenance contract runs until 2028

The second of the contracts, with an amount of 13,661,338 dollars directed to Technology Security Associates to "provide program management, financial, engineering, logistics, administrative, security, and technical support services for the AV-8B Harrier Weapons System for the governments of Spain and Italy in support of the T/AV-8B Harrier Joint Program Office."

It should be noted that these contracts were planned and are not new. The first of them will conclude in December 2028 and the second in April 2029. Last year the commander of the Aircraft Flotilla (FLOAN) of the Spanish Navy noted:

"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 EAB-8B+ Harrier II Plus fighter from the 9th Squadron of the Spanish Navy, the VA.18-6, during an exhibition at the RIAT in England last July (Photo: BAE Systems Air).

Does the US imply that Spain will buy the F-35B?

Some media have noted what the first contract says, which speaks of the "developed plans identifying optimum support options for sustaining engineering and integrated logistic support until the fleet is transitioned from T/AV-8B Harrier to the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter for the Marine Corps, and the governments of Italy and Spain requirements." This final sentence is somewhat confusing, but strictly speaking, it has only referred to the transition from the Harrier II to the F-35B in the US Marines. Thus, it does not seem that the US Department of Defense intends to suggest that Spain has taken the step of purchasing the F-35B.

It must be remembered that Italy has also purchased the F-35B to replace the Harrier II of its Navy. Deliveries are already taking place. In fact, the first F-35B of the Italian Navy landed aboard the aircraft carrier "Cavour" in 2021.

The first F-35B of the Italian Navy on its first landing on the aircraft carrier "Cavour" (Photo: Marina Militare Italiana).

The US document indicates the period that Spain has to buy the F-35B

So far, Spain is the only current Harrier II operator that has not yet opted for the F-35B, despite the fact that there is no other option on the market to replace it. This is an evidence that was already pointed out by the FLOAN commander last year and also by the Spanish Air Force through one of its official publications.

Although the document from the US Department of Defense does not allow for the interpretation that the US implies that Spain is going to buy the fifth generation fighter, what is clear is that these two contracts set a tacit deadline for Spain to acquire the F-35B. A deadline that the Spanish Navy already knew and, consequently, the Spanish government as well, despite which it continues to let time pass without confirming the acquisition of the F-35B, a delay that would leave Spain at the end of a Waiting list that can last years.

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

In 2020 the Spanish Navy indicated that it would need the F-35 in 5 or 6 years

In January we learned that The US approved the sale of the F-35 to Greece. This country expects to receive these fighters between 2027 and 2028. If these delivery times are maintained, Spain would still have time to replace its Harrrier IIs. However, it must be remembered that in November 2020 the Spanish Navy indicated that it would need the F-35"in the next 5-6 years to avoid losing the capacity that the Harriers give us.".

It is not enough for the F-35B to arrive in Spain one day before the Harrier II is withdrawn from service in Italy. In addition it will take time for the aircraft to be operational, including a necessary adaptation of the "Juan Carlos I" aircraft carrier. The Italian aircraft carrier "Cavour" had to be modernized for 16 months to receive the necessary qualification to operate the F-35B. Until now, plans in this regard have not even been drawn up in Spain, and time continues to pass.


Main photo: BAE Systems Air. A Harrier II of the Spanish Navy flying alongside a British F-35 at the RIAT in July 2023.

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