As long expected, Spain officially joined the Franco-German project to develop a Next-Generation Fighter (NGF) that will form part of a broader Future Combat Air Systems (FCAS) with the signing of a letter of intent (LOI) on February 14. Previously, Spain held official observer status within the project, which was launched in July 2017.
Ministers of Spain 🇪🇸, France 🇫🇷 and Germany 🇩🇪, after the signature of a Letter of Intentions about Spain’s integration in the French-German cooperation on a Future Combat Air System #FCAS pic.twitter.com/3sbPxegLyY
— España en la OTAN (@SpainNATO) February 14, 2019
The three partners aim to develop the sixth-generation fighter as a long-term replacement for the lead combat aircraft in the French, German and Spanish Air Forces beginning around 2040. For Spain, as for Germany, this involves a successor to its fleet of Eurofighter Typhoons.
The NGF is to operate in conjunction with a swarm of drones that will serve both as weapons platforms and advanced sensors. These two systems, which are to function together, are collectively referred to as the Next-Generation Weapon System (NGWS).
Spain’s initial contribution to the NGF entails EUR25 million ($28 million) over the next two years. Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles stressed in her public announcement of the LOI signing that Spain entered the project on equal terms with its French and German partners.
While the long-term NGF project entails a successor to the Spanish Air Force’s Typhoon fleet, the service also operates older “classic” EF-18A Hornets and a small stock of U.S. Navy surplus FA-18A/Bs that will require replacement in the nearer term. Another batch order of Typhoons is the likely medium-term bridge solution here, though the Air Force has in the past indicated interest in the land-based variant of the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35A. Joining the U.K. “Team Tempest” future fighter initiative has also been considered.
In addition, the Spanish Navy also operates a small number of 1980s-vintage AV-8B Harrier II jump-jets on board its ski jump-equipped multipurpose amphibious assault vessel, the Juan Carlos I. This fleet is expected to operate through 2025 following a Harrier life-cycle support agreement announced by the Spanish government on May 23, 2014. The Navy is eyeing the only alternative to fill the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) fighter aircraft requirement on the market: the Lockheed Martin F-35B.