PARIS --- The Spanish Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, will sign an agreement on Thursday in Brussels to join the French-German Future Combat Air System (FCAS), the Madrid daily El Pais reported on Sunday). It is expected that the signing of the agreement between Robles and her French and German counterparts, Florence Parly and Ursula von de Leyen, will take place on the margins of the NATO ministerial meeting.
The FCAS program aims to replace European combat aircraft currently in service, such as Eurofighter and Rafale, beginning in 2040. It was formally launched by the award of initial study contracts on Feb. 6, six months after the British government launched a similar project, dubbed Tempest.
Spain wanted to join the FCAS since its launch in July 2017, but the former Minister of Defense, María Dolores de Cospedal, only obtained observer status. On November 28, Robles wrote to her counterparts asking for full integration and on January 30 the formal invitation to participate was received.
In Brussels, the three countries’ defense ministers will sign a Letter Of Intent (LOI) to open negotiations of the Integration Framework Agreement, which will in turn be signed next June at the Paris Air Show. Representatives of the Spanish Ministry of Defense will be integrated into the team working on the initial design phase, while Spanish companies will join the French-German industrial organization.
Spain’s incorporation into the program comes just a week after France and Germany on Feb 6 announced the first FCAS contract -- a joint, two-year concept study worth 65 million euros. It is estimated that the initial cost to Spain will be about 25 million euros. Defense sources argue that the price of staying out would be higher since, even if Airbus -- of which Spain owns 4.17% -- is a contractor, nothing guarantees any workload for its 12,000 employees in Spain.
To maintain its current capabilities, the Spanish Air Force has already asked the Ministry of Defense to purchase 40 new Eurofighter aircraft for around 4 billion euros to replace the 80 F-18 fighters that it will soon retire. The initial need is to replace the 20 F-18s deployed at Gando, in the Canary Islands, which must be replaced by 2022 at the latest, while by the end of the next decade it will also be necessary to replace the other 60 based in Torrejón de Ardoz (Madrid) and Zaragoza.
The Air Force doesn’t hide its preference for the US-made F-35, but considers it more realistic to opt for the Eurofighter that is manufactured in Spain, and whose assembly line will have to close in a year and a half if it does not receive new orders.
Germany, which has just also abandoned the purchase of the F-35, will probably procure around 50 additional Eurofighters to replace its veteran Tornado strike fighters.