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The Spanish Government has issued a call for tenders to buy 24 jets and 4 simulators. The US-made Beechcraft T-6C TEXAN II is the favourite.

The Spanish Air Force needs another trainer plane. In 2021, the CASA C-101 AVIOJET will reach the end of its service life, and for this reason the Spanish government has issued a call for tenders for the purchase of a new model.

In April 2019, the Government approved a budget of €225M for this acquisition. In total, there will be an additional €75M per year in 2020, 2021 and 2022, the date by which the replacement of the C-101 is expected to be completed.

“The Air Force has determined that the date on which the current C-101 system will not be able to continue providing basic training for Air Force students is September 2021. A new system with the technological capabilities that guarantee adequate training should be available by that time”, an MoD official told ESD.

The replacement of these 60 C-101 aircraft is one of the priorities of the Spanish Air Force in the coming years. The veteran C-101 entered into service in 1980. This type is an advanced training aircraft that allows a complete aeronautical formation from the first flight phases until the transition to the fighter planes. It was built entirely in Spain by Construcciones Aeronáuticas S.A. (CASA), which later became part of Airbus.

The C-101 is also the plane used by the “Patrulla Águila”, the aerobatic demonstration team with seven aircraft. Therefore, the new model will also replace this symbol of the Spanish Air Force.

According to official sources, the €225M contract is for the acquisition of 24 aircraft, 2 flight training simulators, 2 operational flight simulators, and 1 ejection seat trainer. “Nowadays, there is a 50-50 proportion between the hours of training in flights and simulators”, the MoD underlines. The tender documents stipulate that the company that finally wins the contract will train eight pilots.

A Tender Favouring “Made in USA”

The Spanish procurement authority DGAM is receiving possible options until 23 September. So it is still a secret which companies compete for the tender but there is an obvious favourite: the “made in USA” Beechcraft T-6C TEXAN II manufactured by Textron Aviation Defence, a turboprop aircraft that has already been evaluated by Spanish Air Force.
“The Beechcraft T-6C is a next-generation military trainer designed for all levels of instruction – from ab initio to advance operational training. The T-6C TEXAN II was purpose-built for a wide range of training capabilities, long-term reliability and cost-effective operations”, the US company presents.

Its low operational cost, the advanced Esterline CMC Cockpit 4000 avionics suite, and the turboprop engine Pratt & Whitney PT6A 68 are the main characteristics that make the T-6 TEXAN II the preferred option for the Spanish Air Force. The T-6 TEXAN II is operated by the Luftwaffe, Mexico, Argentina, Canada, and US Air Force and Navy, among other clients.

The Swiss Option: PC-21

Another preferred and evaluated tender is the Swiss PC-21 (Pilatus Aircraft). “The PC-21 has better aerodynamic performance than any other turboprop trainer on the market, pushing the speed and climb rate into a domain previously reserved for jets only”, the Swiss company defends.

Its cockpit avionics with the display and control system can emulate latest generation front-line aircraft. Fuel consumption and associated costs are also the advantages of this type of trainer.

“Pilatus has also developed a fully integrated training system to accompany the PC-21. It comprises the latest simulators, computer-based training and pilot classroom instruction. Nine customers have bought 211 PC-21s since its maiden flight in 2002”, a company spokesperson said.

France, Jordan, Australia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Switzerland are among the clients of this trainer aircraft.

Among the requirements put forth by the Spanish Air Force, the new trainer should accomplish: a maximum speed between 370-425 km/h at an altitude of 7,600 metres and with half a tank; a flight between 7,600 and 9,150 metres; an autonomy between an hour and a half and 2 hours at a speed of between 370-425 km/h; an on-board oxygen system; and the company that offers a smoke system for aerobatic displays will receive more points.

The trainer aircraft that has been awarded the contract will be part of a sophisticated integrated training system for the General Academy of the Spanish Air Force in San Javier (Murcia).

Another Spanish Option Required by 2027

Apart from this first acquisition (Beechcraft T-6C TEXAN II or Pilatus PC-21), another type of jet will be required by 2027 to complete the new training concept: the 50 Spanish F-5 fighters that instruct the military pilots in the combat flight and the 40 smaller T-35C Pillán (first flights) will also have to be replaced.

In an interview with journalists, the head of the Spanish Air Force, General Javier Salto, defended the choice of a Spanish industry aircraft for this second aircraft procurement programme because ” it creates jobs directly in Spain”. And the answer to this requirement is Airbus, the European manufacturer with factories in Getafe (Madrid) and Seville. “We are working to make that project real”, sources at Airbus told ESD.

Airbus is leading an alliance with the Spanish companies Indra, ITP, GMV, Tecnobit or Cesa (controlled by the Canadian company Héroux-Devtek) to reach that objective and present an offer to the Air Force. All of these companies are now designing the “made in Spain” aircraft called Airbus Flexible Jet (AFJ) that would cover all military training needs and would be interconnected with the A400M, the EUROFIGHTER and its future substitute, the Future Combat Air System (FCAS).

“It is a great opportunity for the Spanish industry in simulators, sensors, equipment. We are going to make all of the avionics; the propulsion systems will be also specific and new for this model. It will be a last generation aircraft. It will be a strong step to maintain the capabilities in Spain: design, build, certify and maintain a complete aircraft. This is something that only a few countries can do”, sources at Airbus told ESD.
The new model would also be an export opportunity for Spain that would join to the C-295, A330 MRTT and A400M aircraft.

Esteban Villarejo