Spain Set To Join Franco-German Stealth sixth-generation fighter jet
Spain has formally announced its interest in joining the Franco-German stealth fighter project, commonly referred to as the Next Generation Weapon System, or NGWS.
Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles “requests that the Spanish incorporation be formalized, through the signing of a Letter of Intentions (LOI) or a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MOU),” a basic machine translation of the Spanish language-only press release explains.
“The cost of being a member of the program is estimated at around 25 million euros [approximately $28.4 million at the time of writing] for the next two years.”
At the same time, the Spanish Ministry of Defense claims that Italy and The Netherlands have signed on to be part of the United Kingdom’s Tempest sixth-generation fighter jet program, which it also predicts will merge with France and Germany’s effort to create a true European fighter jet project.
Spain’s Ministry of Defense unveiled its plans in a press release on Dec. 3, 2018. France and Germany have been publicly working together to craft the requirements for an over-arching Future Air Combat System (FCAS) since July 2017. This would include a manned component, known as the Next Generation Fighter (NGF), networked together with unmanned “loyal wingmen,” which now carry the NGWS moniker specifically. FCAS could also include other types of drones, including a stealthy unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), in the future.
France’s Dassault and European aviation consortium Airbus are presently working on the various components of the FCAS, including the NGF and NGWS. French engine maker Safran has reportedly entered into an agreement with German firm MTU to build the jet engines for the fighter jet component, according to Reuters. You can read more about the overall FCAS program here and here.
The Spanish announcement does not make any specific mention of desired industrial cooperation, though Spain appears interested in becoming a full partner in the program. Spain is already a major partner in Airbus’ EuroMALE medium-altitude long-endurance drone program.
It’s hardly surprising that Spain would be eager to join the program. The Spanish Ministry of Defense’s press release notes that the country has 20 EF-18A/B Hornet fighter jets that will need replacing before 2025 and expects to retire the remaining 65 examples by 2030. The Spanish Air Force received the first of these planes in the late 1980s.
In addition, in 2016, the Spanish and German governments had already worked together with Airbus to develop the initial requirements for the FCAS concept. In June 2017, shortly before the announcement of the Franco-German effort, it was Germany and Spain who were calling on France to join their effort.
It is also worth noting that France, Germany, and Spain had initially collaborated, together with Italy and the United Kingdom, on the Eurofighter EF-2000 Typhoon fourth generation fighter jet. The French subsequently dropped out of that program and purchased the indigenously designed and built Dassault Rafale.
The Spanish Ministry of Defense said that it made its decision based on the two European options that are presently available, one being the Franco-German FCAS. The other option would have been to look into joining the United Kingdom’s Tempest program, which the U.K. government first announced in July 2018.
Similar in most respects to FCAS, Tempest also envisions a combination of stealthy manned and unmanned aircraft working together in a highly-networked environment. You can read more about that project here.
The Spanish Defense Ministry’s statement says that the FCAS and Tempest requirements are so similar that they are highly likely to combine in the future to form a single program.
However Tempset does reaffirms the direction of travel of combat air systems. pic.twitter.com/t9VwutXA87
— Joseph Dempsey (@JosephHDempsey) July 16, 2018
Airbus has also suggested that the international fighter market and the costs associated with stealth fighter development mean that multiple European projects are unsustainable.
“I strongly believe it has to be a full European solution [for a new combat air program],” Dirk Hoke, the CEO of Airbus Defense and Space, told reporters ahead of the biennial Farnborough Air Show on July 6, 2018. “Two or more different solutions is not sustainable, it will bring Europe into the second league.”
What is also interesting about the Spanish statement regarding Tempest is the disclosure that Italian and Dutch governments are also part of that program. Italian defense contractor Leonardo and European missile consortium MBDA, which includes an Italian component, are already part of Team Tempest, but there have been no formal announcements of the Italian government considering purchasing the aircraft. This appears to be the first mention of Dutch interest or involvement at all.
Spain still has yet to make its involvement in Franco-German fighter jet program official, but it looks as if they will make the arrangement formal in the near future. If the Spanish truly believe that FCAS will blend together with the United Kingdom’s Tempest program, there’s not much of a choice to be made, anyway.