A small cell of the highest trust of Secretary of Defense Margarita Robles, has already concluded negotiations with the US Department of Defense and the industrial group Lockheed Martin for the purchase of the F-35the fifth-generation stealth fighter, of which more than 840 aircraft are already flying in the air forces of 17 nations.
With the express prior authorization of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez The small Spanish team had been looking for interlocutors with the US military-technical delegation and “already agreed on the general outlines of the transaction”, say sources familiar with the details. The Spanish Air Force must replace its more than 50 modernized F-18 fighters from the 12th Wing (Torrejón) and 15th Wing (Zaragoza) over the next decade. And by 2029 the Navy must begin replacing its dozen AV-8B Harrier II Plus veterans who make up the 9th Squadron of its aircraft flotilla.
The start of the formal F-35 procurement process will be formalized in the coming months. A government-to-government agreement through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system is the mechanism by which the Washington Department of Defense facilitates the sale of weapons systems, equipment, services and training to allied or friendly powers.
The total number of aircraft in demand in Spain is being kept under wraps. The goal is to obtain a first batch of at least twenty F-35A aircraft for the Air Force and another dozen in F-35B vertical launch configuration to renew the air projection potential of the L-61 Juan Carlos I aircraft carrier. Once the contract is signed, the Spanish requests will flow onto the production line at Lockheed Martin’s massive F-35 factory in Fort Worth, Texas, where orders are piling up in the thousands, making it all but impossible for the first units to arrive in Spain arrive before 2030.
The Regional Council and the Ministry of Defense maintain the strictest secrecy, to the point of blocking any information or public statements about the possibility of the F-35, even the mere reference to the aircraft by Ministry officials. The announcement of the decision and the start of the administrative procedure for the purchase will come “at the right time”, according to those who know the state of affairs but who, for obvious reasons, prefer to remain anonymous.
Questions about the invisible fighter
One of the reasons why Moncloa and Defense are maintaining strict confidentiality and discretion in the purchase they have already decided to make is President Pedro Sánchez’s order to avoid controversy with his government partners in Unidas Podemos and their parliamentary allies. The aim is not to hurt their sensitive feelings and prevent serious clashes that could ruin the state budget in 2023 and later blow up the fragile coalition.
The level of obscurantism surrounding the F-35 has reached such an extreme that Defense Secretary Amparo Valcarce made not the slightest allusion to the matter when she appeared Oct. 20 before the Congressional Defense Committee to present next year’s defense budgets . She didn’t even mention the F-35 as an alternativewhich refers to the necessary replacement of half of the F-18 and the entire AV-8B Harrier II Plus.
Nor did he utter the words “Efe thirty-five” in response to requests for clarification from opposition members. Popular Group MP Jesús Postigo asked: “What is the truth about whether or not the government has committed to buying F-35 fighters? Is this information correct? What is the decision of the Department of Defense? The F-35, the Eurofighter or the FCAS – the latter alluding to the future European combat aircraft that Germany, France and Spain are developing together and which has been idle for many months.
Also, the deputy of the VOX group, Agustín Rosety, asked for the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ response to “the covert procurement of the F-35 in versions A and B for the Air Force and the Navy, which, by the way,” he emphasized, “did not mention it . Did it take them that long to understand that it’s the only possible replacement for the F-18 and AV-8?
But Amparo Valcarce, like a bullfighter with years of experience in the profession, practiced a “media verónica”.. A professional PSOE politician, she served three terms as a member of Congress (between 1996 and 2008) before joining the Defense Department in June 2018 as Director General for Education and Recruitment under her friend, Minister Margarita Robles. In the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who, like her, is from León, she was Secretary of State for Social Services, Families, Disabilities and Social Policy (2004-2009). She then served as a government delegate in Madrid (2009-2011) and later as a member of the Madrid Assembly (2011-2015).
Secretary of Defense avoids comment
All he replied to the clarifying remarks boiled down to the following: “The armed forces will choose the best replacement, there is no doubt about that. You have no doubt that the armed forces and the government will choose the best replacement. But you have to let the armed forces work, you have to let them choose the best ones… it’s in defense planning and it’s designed for that. And it will be done, of course it will be done.” Olé, olé and olé!
In the military sphere it is known that the purchase of the F-35B “is already more than underway”.. The F-35B is the only western vertical takeoff aircraft and as such there is no alternative. The option of opting for used AV-8B Harrier II Plus aircraft with thousands of flight hours under their belt that the US Marine Corps is decommissioning is not a solution for the Navy (Cádiz) despite the naval airfield in Rota maintaining a large spare parts inventory. The geostrategic situation makes it more advisable than ever for the Navy to have new generation aircraft with many decades of service in front of it.
In the Air Force, the most vocal supporter of the F-35 is Gen. Javier Salto, Chief of Staff for Aerospace. Both USAF officers and Lockheed Martin executives were regulars at Air Force Headquarters and the Department of Defense, where they made presentations, provided reports of all kinds, and answered questions. Even pilots from the Spanish Air Force and Navy had the opportunity to get to know and fly the F-35 in detail.
Next year’s defense budgets include a section titled “AV-8B and C-15M second-phase replacement aircraft,” which earmarks $90 million for 2023 and $6.25 billion by 2028, allowing us to move resources from one item to another transferred as long as it is for investment”, the way to equip the F-35 is financially practically secured.
Spain and many other countries rely on at least two sources of supply for the weapon systems they deem critical. In the air and for the future, one is the European Eurofighter and the other, for lack of a better solution, the F-35. In their case, the FCAS extends beyond the year 2040. Amparo Valcarve signed a €2,043 million purchase commitment on June 23 in Berlin for 20 new Eurofighters in their most advanced version (Tranche 4): 16 single-seat and 4 double-seat trainers. They will replace the veteran Boeing F/A-18s of the 462nd Air Force Squadron based at Gando Air Base (Gran Canaria) from 2026. A solution has yet to be found for those in Zaragoza and Torrejón.
With a unit price of between 80 and 100 million dollars, the stealth and multirole fighter F-35 in its A, B and C configurations is the most advanced fighter in the world. The US Air Force, Marine Corps and US Navy have signed up for more than 2,400 units, in addition to those committed or in advanced contract stages by Australia (100), Belgium (34), South Korea (80), Denmark (27). Units. , Finland (64), Israel (75), Italy (90), Japan (147), Norway (52), Netherlands (46), Poland (32), United Kingdom (48), Switzerland (36) and Singapore. Germany has 35 devices.