Here are Spain's options for future advanced pilot training

Spain new advanced trainer aircraft
Spanish Air Force pilots pose in front of SF-5M Freedom Fighters at Ala 23.

Advanced training for Spanish Air Force student pilots is currently provided by the SF-5M Freedom Fighter jet, based at Ala-23 in Badajoz. At the beginning of the year, the Spanish Ministry of Defense approved an investment of 25 million euros to be allocated between 2023 and 2024 to guarantee the operation of the SF-5M for another five years. According to Defense plans, the type is expected to be retired in 2028 (19 aircraft were still operational as of 2019).

"The new planes will be in the country in 2028 for the training of our fighter and attack pilots," said Defense Secretary Amparo Valcarce. The Defense appears to want to make a decision on the replacement by 2024. Options under consideration include Leonardo's M-346, KAI's T-50 and Boeing's T-7 (less likely due to program delays).

Madrid could also consider the Pilatus PC-21 turboprop trainer which is characterized by an avionics similar to that of fifth generation fighters and is already operational at the Spanish Air Force flight academy as a replacement for the old CASA C-101 jet. A similar choice has already been made by the French Air Force which has chosen the Swiss-made aircraft as a replacement for the Alpha Jet for all phases of pilot training.

However, the choice of PC-21 could reduce the mission capabilities of the Service. It should not be forgotten that the SF-5M is also used by Spain as a light fighter due to its ability to load a variety of weapons including the AIM-9J Sidewinder missile at the wingtips. This could lead the nation to choose a jet with superior performance over that of a turboprop. In a previous post we have already talked about the advantages that an aircraft like the M-346 could bring to the Spanish Air Force.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Image: Spanish Air Force

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