What future holds for Spanish Navy fixed-wing fleet? Harrier is at sunset, no plans for F-35B

Spanish Navy Harrier jump jet in Beast Mode configuration.

Spain has a short-term problem to face as the Armada Espanola (Spanish Navy) Harrier jump jets are close to retirement. Madrid will have to decide quickly whether to allow the Navy to continue operating with a fixed-wing fleet or just helicopters.

In 2016, the Admiral Chief of Naval Staff, Jaime Muñoz-Delgado, said the AV-8B is expected to end its operational life between 2025 and 2027 and the market offers a unique STOVL option, the F -35B. However, the Spanish Defense can not currently proceed with Lockheed Martin's platform because of the tight budget. The price of a Marines F-35B is set at $115.5 million.

Today the Spanish Navy has a fixed-wing fleet composed of 12 AV-8B Harrier II Plus introduced almost 35 years ago. In November 2014, the Ministry of Defense extended the agreement to support the Harrier program following investment approval of € 47.6 million ($ 54.1 million) between 2014 and 2024.

Initially, the Spanish Defense Minister had evaluated a joint strategy between the Spanish Air Force and Navy which provided for the replacement of Harrier and F-18 Hornet with the F-35. Buying a larger package of Lightning IIs would have favored the price. However, Madrid has definitely opted to replace the Hornet with the Eurofighter, leaving little hope for the Navy. According to some Spanish analysts, the Armada will continue to operate only the rotary-wing fleet. Meanwhile, it has already started purchasing new helicopters, as confirmed by the NH-90 deal.

The Italian Defense had to face the same problem a few years ago and, as is well known, it has chosen to introduce the F-35B.

Written by Matteo Sanzani

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