The retrofit of Tranche 1, the integration of the E-Scan radar and a possible replacement of the Spanish fleet of 85 F-18 aircraft are the most important pillars for the future of the jet-fighter in Spain.

In July 2020, the Spanish Air Force will receive its last EUROFIGHTER jet, reaching the 72 deliveries agreed in the original contract, Airbus DS sources told ESD during a visit to the company’s facilities in Getafe, nearr Madrid.

However, this milestone does not spell the end for Spain’s Eurofighter TYPHOON programme as the Spanish Airforce (Ejército del Aire) will enhance its current fleet of 70 aircrafts (there were two accidents in 2014 and 2017) and, most importantly, will replace 85 F-18 HORNET by 2025.

“The EUROFIGHTER is a solid candidate for the replacement of the F-18 deployed in Zaragoza, Madrid and Canary Islands”, a Spanish Air Force spokesperson said. The final decision is also linked to the possibility of reinforcing the industrial capabilities of Airbus DS in Spain. Of course, there are two other US-made candidates, the F-18 SUPER HORNET by Boeing and F-35 LIGHTNING II by Lockheed Martin.

Anyway, the Spanish government will likely change its defence staff members in the coming weeks after the last general election was won by the current socialist government. According to political analysts, the of Defence, Secretary of State, and part of the Chiefs of the Armed Forces could be replaced and a new team would have to make the final decision about the F-18 replacement.

However, on 14 December 2018, the current minister, Margarita Robles, approved an extra €906M to improve the capabilities of the EUROFIGHTER fleet until 2023 “since the €9,254M of the allocated budget had been spent.”

Official Airbus sources have expressed their satisfaction with the statements of the Spanish MoD, which spell out Spain’s plans for the future of its EUROFIGHTER fleet: “We hope to work with this valuable client to implement the proposed improvements that will ensure the fundamental role of Eurofighter at the heart of the Spanish Air Force during the next decades and that will underpin the continuous stability of the production of combat aircraft in Spain.”

Spain participates in the Eurofighter programme by holding 14% of Airbus DS (Germany with Airbus DS, 30%; UK with BAE Systems, 36%; Italy with Leonardo, 20%).
The final assembly line in Getafe provides the delivery of the entire Spanish EUROFIGHTER fleet and manufactures all the right-hand wing of all 623 aircrafts ordered by nine countries (Germany, UK, Italy, Spain, Austria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar).

The Tranche 1 Retrofit

“The replacement of Tranche 1 EURO-FIGHTERs is not an issue at the moment. Tranche 1 fleet has just started a modernisation programme, which includes hardware and software upgrades, taking care of obsolescence issues by integrating Tranche 2 hardware. Operational upgrades include new capabilities, like the possibility of carry litening targeting pods”, the official spokesperson of the Spanish Air Force, Lieutenant-Colonel Marcos Díez Estévez, told ESD.

Last February, Airbus delivered the first upgraded Tranche 1 EUROFIGHTER to the Spanish Air Force. The upgrade was carried out at the Airbus facilities in Getafe and involved the introduction of hardware modifications, which support the Operational Flight Programme 02 (OFP-02) developed by the Armament and Experimental Logistics Centre (CLAEX) in the Spanish Air Force.

The upgrade developed by Airbus includes modifications that integrate Tranche 2 and Tranche 3 equipment on the aircraft, such as a Computer Symbol Generator, Digital Video and Voice Recorder, Laser Designator Pod and Maintenance Data Panel.

“This first single-seat EUROFIGHTER (serial number SS003), to be followed by a second two-seat aircraft currently undergoing the upgrade, will be used initially by CLAEX as a test aircraft for the qualification of these new capabilities that will be implemented on the Air Force’s fleet of 17 Tranche 1 EUROFIGHTERs”, Fernando Peces, responsible for the EUROFIGHTER programme at Airbus DS in Spain, stated.

Another pillar of the Phase 2 Enhancements (P2E) of the Spanish EUROFIGHTER will be the integration of the METEOR missile. Developed and produced by a consortium of European companies led by MBDA, the METEOR missile is undoubtedly the main innovation of the P2E.

The Airbus DS plant in Getafe. Airbus hopes that the Spanish MoD will chose the EUROFIGHTER to replace its ageing F-18 HORNET fleet. (Photo: AIRBUS DS)

METEOR is a radar missile designed to destroy targets at previously unattainable distances. Its maximum range is well over 100 kilometres, twice as long as other missiles designed for combat beyond the visual line of sight (BVLoS), including the US AMRAAM, which remains the most important reference to date.

Being a fully European technology, METEOR contributes to the autonomy of the continent in terms of defence with a truly revolutionary product, which has no equivalent in the market. In addition to the EUROFIGHTER, this missile has been integrated into the Swedish GRIPEN, the French RAFALE and the British F-35.

E-Scan Integration

After the retrofit of Tranche 1 in 2023, Airbus DS wants to introduce E-Scan radar in the entire fleet. This adaptation will imply improvements in the following capacities: detection, attack and identification; SAR modes (synthetic aperture radar); transmission of images; electromagnetic measurements; and integration of smart weapons.

The integration of the E-Scan radar is a bi-national programme involving Spain and Germany to start in 2022 in the Luftwaffe fleet. It will bring about an improvement in the processing and electronic warfare functions.

It is expected that Spain’s fleet of 77 EUROFIGHTER will be in service until 2045 when the Future Combat Aircraft System (FCAS) will start to replace them. Spain will announce its participation in this French-German led main military project during the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget. The Spanish authorities will sign a Memorandum of Understanding to be on board this ambitious European jet fighter project.

And the F-18 Spanish Fleet Replacement?

What are the possibilities for EUROFIGHTER to replace the 85 F-18 HORNETs fleet of the Spanish Air Force? After the integration of the E-Scan radar into the current fleet, Airbus DS expects to win a new contract to replace the F-18s.

“We are having conversations with the Spanish MoD to replace the F-18. Of course, it is a sovereign decision. But, I can tell you that the favourite option to replace the first F-18 aircrafts in Gando Air Base (Canary Islands) is the EUROFIGHTER”, Alberto Gutiérrez, head of military aircraft at Airbus DS, told ESD. This is where a new chapter in the ‘jet flight’ between Europe and US is about to begin.

Esteban Villarejo