The president of the PSOE-Unidas Podemos coalition government, Pedro Sánchez, has kicked off his campaign to try to convince NATO leaders that his government is willing to increase Spain's defence budgets and capabilities.
The first step has just been taken on the eve of the summit of heads of state and government of the Atlantic Alliance, which next week will bring to Madrid the leaders of the 30 allied nations and the countries that aspire to sign the Washington Treaty and form part of the largest defence organisation on the planet.
The measure taken by President Sánchez consists of confirming the purchase of 20 EF-2000 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets, a decision that was authorised six months ago by the Council of Ministers. The Department of Defence, headed by the magistrate Margarita Robles, has been in charge of making this public and it responds to the imperative need to replace the veteran American Boeing F/A-18 fighter-bombers of the 462nd Air Force Squadron stationed at the Gando air base (Gran Canaria), whose main mission is the air defence of the Canary Islands archipelago.
The Secretary of State for Defence, Amparo Valcarce, was the commissioner to attend the purchase ceremony, which took place on 23 June, during the opening day of the ILA international aerospace exhibition, which is being held until Sunday 26 June at Berlin's Schönefeld airport.
The contract is part of the so-called Halcón programme, which was approved by the Council of Ministers on 14 December 2021 and which, according to a recent statement from the Ministry of Defence, is "key to the aerospace industry and to strengthening the operational capabilities of the Spanish Air Force".
Military sources have confirmed that the new technological configuration of the recently acquired Eurofighters is the result of a joint effort between the General Staff requirements of the Spanish Halcón programme and the Luftwaffe's Quadriga project. The German demand has led to the purchase of 38 Typhoons - 31 single-seat and 7 two-seat - of the most advanced version developed by Airbus (tranche 4), with which Berlin will replace the Eurofighters that were produced in the early 2000s.
Contacts and negotiations between the defence authorities of the two countries date back to the end of 2019. On the military side, German and Spanish pilots agreed on "a similar configuration, with differences in very few equipment, for example, in the electronic warfare equipment, the ability to launch anti-ship missiles and the anti-corrosion treatment that the Spanish aircraft will have," military sources confirm.
On the industrial side, "common parameters have been established for supply logistics, production and assembly lines", as the aircraft for the Luftwaffe are assembled at the huge Airbus GmbH plant in Manching, Bavaria. The 20 aircraft for the Spanish Air Force will be integrated at the European company's factory in Getafe, near Madrid. For both assembly lines, the Quadriga and Halcón projects ensure a workload until at least 2030.
The presence of the Secretary of State for Defence in Berlin was not intended for her to sign the purchase agreement. The purpose of Amparo Valcarce's trip to Germany was to attend the contract ceremony and to meet with Benedikt Bernhard Sebastian Zimmer, the Bundeswehr's Secretary of State for Equipment.
The signing of the procurement was done by Air Lieutenant General Miguel Martin Perez, Director General of the NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency (NETMA), the entity representing Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, the four nations that have funded the development of the Eurofighter. NETMA contracts with the Eurofighter industrial consortium, which is made up of Airbus GmbH (Germany), Airbus Spain, Leonardo (Italy) and BAE Systems (UK), companies that share the manufacturing of the aircraft's various major aerostructures.
The Spanish military received authorisation from the Ministry of Defence to order, on behalf of Spain, Airbus and Eurojet - the engine manufacturer - to produce 20 fighters - 16 single-seat and four two-seat for training - in Tranche 4 configuration, the latest and most advanced generation of the Typhoon.
The order covers the production of two dozen fighters, but also a total of 48 EJ200 engines, advanced electronic scanning radar (E-Scan), a flight simulator and the ground support equipment to enable them to operate, all for a total cost of 2.043 billion euros. The forecasts estimate that the first batch of aircraft will be received by the Air Force in 2026, with deliveries to the Luftwaffe of the Quadriga project aircraft beginning in 2025.
From the point of view of Mike Schoellhorn, the German head of Airbus Defence and Space since July 2021, the purchase just made by the government of Pedro Sanchez "reinforces Spain's commitment to Eurofighter and also to its industrial and development environment", as the 20 new aircraft are scheduled to remain in service until 2060.
EF-2000 fighters have been in service with the Spanish Air Force since 2003 and when the delivery of the new batch of actions is completed, the Spanish Eurofighter fleet will total 90 aircraft. At the moment, the 70 in service are deployed at the air bases of Morón (Wing 11) and Albacete (Wing 14) and their main mission is to secure the national airspace. Among its most recent contributions to NATO is its participation in air policing missions in the Baltic and Black Sea.
Of the European fighter, 681 units have been contracted by Austria (15), Germany (181), Saudi Arabia (72), Italy (96), Kuwait (28), Oman (12), Qatar (24) and the United Kingdom (160), in addition to Spain. More than 1,300 units of the EJ200 engine have already been delivered.
The production of its various modules is carried out by the four companies associated with the Eurojet industrial consortium: the British company Rolls-Royce, the German company MTU Aero Engines, the Italian company Avio Aero and the Spanish company ITP Aero. The latter is also responsible for the final assembly of the propulsion plants for the 48 engines for the Spanish Air Force, "which will be carried out at its factory in Ajalvir, near Madrid," confirmed Gerhard Bähr, Eurojet's CEO.