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These are the Spanish Armed Forces' most urgent priorities

Improvements to the Command and Control System, the replacement of F-18 fighters in the Canary Islands and the acquisition of maritime surveillance aircraft occupy the podium
PHOTO/Ricardo Pérez- MDE - Sobre las espaldas del Jefe de Estado Mayor de la Defensa, el almirante Teodoro López Calderón, recae tanto el mando operativo de las Fuerzas Armadas españolas como la definición de las capacidades y prioridades en la obtención de nuevo sistemas de armas

PHOTO/Ricardo Pérez- MDE  -   The Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Teodoro López Calderón, is responsible for the operational command of the Spanish Armed Forces and for defining the capabilities and priorities in the procurement of new weapons systems.

The Spanish Armed Forces were the last priority of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's governments since his re-election in April 2008. They continued to be so during the six and a half years of Mariano Rajoy's term at the head of the Executive. They have also been President Pedro Sánchez's since he came to power in June 2018.

The Council of Ministers presided over by Pedro Sánchez has authorised contracts for the acquisition, for example, of wheeled combat vehicles - called VCR 8x8 Dragon -, transport and multipurpose helicopters - NH90 and CH-47 Chinook -, the new F-110 frigates and Pilatus PC-21 training aircraft. But while these are very important, they are only the tip of the iceberg of the demands made to end the obsolescence of a large number of weapons systems of the Army, Air Force and Navy, which year after year add to the already long list. 

PHOTO/EA – Para el Jefe de Estado Mayor de la Defensa, la sustitución de los F-18 de Canarias representan una altísima prioridad. Adquiridos de segunda mano en la década de los años 90, alcanzarán el fin de su vida operativa entre 2022 y 2024
PHOTO/EA – For the Chief of Defence Staff, the replacement of the F-18s in the Canary Islands represents a very high priority. Purchased second-hand in the 1990s, they will reach the end of their operational life between 2022 and 2024.

The official voices of the government and the Ministry of Defence go out of their way to proclaim the "modernity" of the Spanish Armed Forces. But the six F-80 frigates of the "Santa María" class, in service since the mid-1980s, "are already dying", according to Navy sources. Their replacement, the F-110s, will not be ready to replace them. That's the thing about these things, they get old, stop being efficient and require replacement. Or contract out Spain's defence to a third country, another option.

With the peremptory needs having been raised time and again for more than a decade now, the current government's green light for some purchases obeys both industrial aspects - to avoid the collapse of important companies based in Spain -, to maintain the jobs of thousands of highly qualified workers and, of course, to prevent the collapse of the main military operational capabilities.

PHOTO/Ricardo Pérez- MDE - Las principales figuras de las Fuerzas Armadas españolas, a excepción del presidente del Gobierno. El Rey Felipe VI y la ministra de Defensa, Margarita Robles. Abajo, de izquierda a derecha, los jefes de la Armada, Tierra y Aire, junta a la secretaria y subsecretaria de Defensa en la video conferencia del 29 de mayo
PHOTO/Ricardo Pérez- MDE -The main figures of the Spanish Armed Forces, with the exception of the President of the Government. King Felipe VI and the Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles. Below, from left to right, the heads of the Navy, Land and Air forces, together with the Secretary and Undersecretary of Defence at the video conference on 29 May.

These capabilities in the form of tangible equipment are decisive for safeguarding the strategic interests of Spain and the Spanish people; they contribute directly to deterrence against potential unfriendly or aggressive actions, as well as allowing our military to participate in operations abroad where they put their lives on the line. The economic situation Spain is going through as a result of COVID-19 and its repercussions on the economy and society have not escaped the attention of senior military commanders. They are aware that there are situations that are at the top of the list of concerns that must first be resolved. But they miss the fact that in times of economic boom, people look the other way. 

Point number one: the Command and Control System

But, as of today, are there still priorities to be covered that are at the limit? There are, and not just a lot of them. The list of weapons systems and equipment that for reasons of obsolescence need to be replaced in the very short term is long. 

PHOTO/EA - La primera y más urgente de las prioridades es la mejora del Sistema de Mando y Control, una necesidad transversal que requiere aumentar sus capacidades de defensa y protección para asegurar la vigilancia aeroterrestre y naval y garantizar las conexiones terrestres y vía satélite del conjunto de las Fuerzas Armadas.
PHOTO/EA - The first and most urgent priority is the improvement of the Command and Control System, a cross-cutting need that requires increasing its defence and protection capabilities to ensure air-ground and naval surveillance and guaranteeing the ground and satellite connections of the Armed Forces as a whole.

In addition, there are those that need to be obtained in the medium and long term, whose manufacture and delivery period until their entry into service may even extend over decades. In short, the sum of all of them - with the arguments that explain their necessity - is as long as a letter to the Three Wise Men written by the residents of a housing estate.

But there is an urgent demand that cannot wait any longer. The Chief of Defence Staff himself, Admiral Teodoro López Calderón, when asked a couple of days before the celebration of Armed Forces Day - which this year was held on 29 May - about the three weapons systems at the top of the list of priorities, stated without hesitation that "if I had to count just one, it would be the Command and Control System". 

PHOTO/EA - Los veteranos turbohélices P-3 Orión han llegado al final de su vida, y hay que darlos de baja por haber alcanzado el límite estructural definido por su fabricante. Todo apunto a que serán relevados por C-295 de Airbus en configuración de vigilancia marítima (VIGMA)
PHOTO/EA - The veteran P-3 Orion turboprops have reached the end of their life, and have to be retired as they have reached the structural limit defined by their manufacturer. They will be replaced by Airbus C-295s in maritime surveillance configuration (VIGMA).

This is a cross-cutting need "to improve the defence and protection capabilities of the current Command and Control System", a kind of umbrella that envelops and links through terrestrial and satellite connections and ensures the air-land and naval surveillance of the Armed Forces as a whole. "It is a necessary priority because if it cannot be commanded, the force will not know what to do," the JEMAD emphasises. 

The guarantees of its proper functioning affect "planning and decision-making in operations, and it has to be much more robust and resilient in the face of possible incursions and attacks", he stresses. This demand is closely associated with another facet, which is "to continue advancing in the digital transformation of our Armed Forces, something that he himself promoted in the Navy during his years as Chief of Staff of the Navy.

PHOTO/Rubén Somonte-MDE - Los discursos suelen realzar la importancia del factor humano en los ejércitos y la Armada. Totalmente cierto. Pero sin los instrumentos adecuados y acordes con los tiempos, su función en los escenarios de disuasión y crisis actuales queda palpablemente disminuida
PHOTO/Rubén Somonte-MDE - Speeches often emphasise the importance of the human factor in armies and navies. This is absolutely true. But without the right tools in keeping with the times, their role in today's deterrence and crisis scenarios is palpably diminished.
The Canary Islands will maintain their air protection at all costs

Admiral López Calderón went on to add other needs. Those relating to "electronic warfare issues, because their capabilities are also somewhat diminished". The third demand in the top ten is for maritime patrol aircraft. 

From his privileged position as the highest operational commander of the Spanish Armed Forces, the JEMAD has taken up the urgent and reiterated request of the Air Chief of Staff, General Javier Salto, for the urgent replacement of the three aircraft that currently perform these missions. These are the P-3 Orion turboprops, "which are reaching the end of their life," the admiral emphasises. "Not at the end of their useful life, but at the end of their life, completely. They have to be decommissioned," he clarifies, to make it clear that they are aircraft that are at the structural limit defined by their manufacturer, Lockheed Martin.

The term maritime patrol can be misleading. In addition to their task of surveillance of large areas of the sea, these aircraft perform important missions in anti-submarine warfare, a potential that the JEMAD describes as "enormous". And as if that were not enough, the admiral adds the "very high priority of the replacement of the F-18s in the Canary Islands". These are combat aircraft acquired second-hand from the US Navy in the 1990s and which will reach the end of their operational life between 2022 and 2024.

PHOTO/Navantia - Las nuevas fragatas F-110 que están en proceso de construcción en Navantia no llegarán a tiempo para sustituir a las seis fragatas F-80 que, en breve, van a comenzar a ser retiradas de servicio de forma progresiva
PHOTO/Navantia - The new F-110 frigates currently under construction at Navantia will not arrive in time to replace the six F-80 frigates that will soon be phased out of service.

"Under no circumstances is the Canary Islands going to be left without an adequate air detachment," he stresses. If for any reason the F-18s of the 46th Wing stationed at the Gando air base on the island of Gran Canaria were to be taken out of service, "fighters would be deployed from the mainland". On the list of top priorities is the modernisation of the five F-100 frigates of the "Álvaro de Bazán" class, which entered service between 2002 and 2012 and whose on-board equipment has accumulated years of obsolescence. However, "everything will depend on the financial scenario for 2022 and the following years", emphasises Admiral López Calderón.

Under the directives of the JEMAD, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JEMACON), Lieutenant General Fernando García González-Valerio, is leading the new planning phase, one of the final documents of which is the so-called Military Capabilities Objective, which covers the next six years. From it is derived the so-called Unified Integrated List, the complete and prioritised list of needs to be addressed, but always in accordance with the general budgets for 2022 and beyond. If next year's budget is still at an incipient stage of drafting, we must imagine the state of the rest of the coming years.