The Ukrainian war scenario has accelerated the process of modernization and improvement of military capabilities of allied countries within the NATO framework in order to be able to cope with present and future threats. A process that began almost ten years ago, with the commitment at the transatlantic summit in Wales to reach 2% of GDP in defense investments by Alliance members and ratified at the summit of European Union Heads of State and Government held in Versailles in March 2022 in reaction to the Ukrainian crisis. Specifically, in the case of Spain and according to the Executive’s statements, the commitment of 2% of GDP is expected to be reached in 2029.
In order to carry out this modernization, the Spanish Ministry of Defense has launched a series of projects that have already begun to be carried out in the current fiscal year 2023 and will be completed over the next 6 years until 2029.
Thus, six new specific aeronautical modernization programs have been included in the General State Budget for 2023. The objective of all these programs is to replace certain existing fleets in the Navy and the Air and Space Forces in order to improve and strengthen Spanish protection and reaction capabilities through new acquisitions and more updated systems.
The total cost of the six programs, according to the provisions of Chapter 6 of the Ministry of Defense budgets for 2023 is 13,138 million euros. These programs, together with seven other modernization programs in the naval, land and aerospace fields, are added to the twenty-three other modernization programs underway, bringing the total number of modernization programs to be managed by the Ministry of Defense to thirty-six. This figure has never been reached to date and will undoubtedly pose a management challenge for the Ministry’s authorities, particularly for its Secretary of State for Defense.
The following is a more detailed description of the six new aeronautical modernization programs with reference to the title, their respective budgets and the periods foreseen for their execution.
1. Multipurpose Helicopter of the Navy
This program has a budget of 900 million euros, which will be distributed and managed in different stages and periodically over the years from 2023 to 2029. Of this total amount, EUR 683 million will be executed between 2023 and 2026, with the remainder, i.e. EUR 217 million, allocated to the budgets for the period between 2027 and 2029.
The program is based on the replacement of the SH-60B helicopters of the Navy’s Aircraft Flotilla. Although the name of the replacement will only be known when the contract is awarded, it is certain that in March 2022, talks began with the United States for the possible acquisition of modern MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters, more popularly known as Romeo helicopters, and that the US Congress has already approved the possible sale to the Spanish government of 8 units of this type of helicopter with their corresponding logistics package and armament.
However, the alternative presented by Airbus Helicopters España, with its multipurpose helicopter, in competition with the U.S. proposal, remains open.
2. Aircraft Maritime Patrol Aircraft
This program is aimed at replacing the P-3 Orion models owned by the Air and Space Army, which have already been decommissioned during their operational life. The candidate for this priority capability for the Spanish Air Force is the Airbus C-295 in maritime patrol configuration. The budget for the purchase of these new aircraft is 580 million euros, which will be administered over the course of the next few years, establishing an expenditure of 530 million euros for the period 2023 to 2026 and 50 million euros for the year 2027.
The C-295 marine patrol version is a powerful model with anti-submarine warfare (AWS) capability and therefore the modernization investment in this system is of vital strategic interest for the Spanish Ministry of Defense.
3. RPAS Long SIRTAP Range
This program has a budget of 348 million euros, to be executed in the period 2023 – 2027. Specifically, between 2023 and 2026, €314 million is budgeted with the remaining €34 million allocated to the 2027 budget.
The basis of this program is the acquisition of the drone known as SIRTAP (Sistema Remotamente Tripulado de Alta Prestaciones) developed by the European conglomerate Airbus for remote intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. This drone is presented as one of the major upgrades of the Spanish defense systems and, above all, for use in the Air and Space Army, which currently has no drones of these characteristics. It will also be useful to replace the Searcher currently used in Army missions.
The drone is about 12 meters wide from wing to wing and 7.3 meters long. It has a powerful electro-optical and infrared camera and radar for target detection. Its total weight is about 750 kilograms.
4. Airplane Replacement for the C-15M
The fleet of C-15M aircraft (F-18 Hornet in its U.S. designation) of the Spanish Air and Space Force, which currently serves the Zaragoza and Torrejón de Ardoz air bases, will end its operational life in the next few years. A two-phase modernization program is planned for their replacement. In Phase I of this program, the objective is to replace a first batch of aircraft.
The candidate fighter for this particular program is still to be decided, although the Long Term Evolution (LTE) Eurofigther, the most modern of its versions, has the Air Force and Space Army’s blessing for this 1st Phase. In any case, this particular program has an overall budget of 4.5 billion euros for the execution period established between 2023 and 2028. Of this amount, the Ministry of Defense has allocated 1,564 million euros between the years 2023 and 2026, and 2,936 million euros for the years 2027 and 2028.
5. Airplane Substitute for the AV-8B and C-15M 2nd Phase
This program combines both the operational need to replace the AV-8B Harrier aircraft of the 9th Aircraft Squadron of the Spanish Navy and a 2nd Phase for the replacement of the rest of the fleet of C-15M aircraft of the Spanish Air and Space Force.
Again, the replacement air system for both fleets has not been defined. However, the versatility of Lockheed Martin’s North American F-35 Lightning aircraft, designed for aerial combat, with reduced radar and infrared signature, great maneuverability and vertical take-off and landing capability in its Bravo version, could meet the needs of both the Air and Space Army and the Navy, and its acquisition would combine operational aspects as well as economies of scale and rationalization of maintenance.
The budget estimated by the Ministry of Defense for this modernization program, which combines the needs of both operators, is 6,250 million euros, which will be distributed to be executed in the period 2023-2028. The first €1,767 million will be invested between 2023 and 2026 and the remaining €4,483 million between 2027 and 2028.
6. Surveillance Surveillance Maritime Surveillance
For this program, the purchase of ten aircraft for maritime surveillance, search and rescue missions, missions assigned to the Air and Space Army, is being considered. This acquisition is intended to replace the CN-235 fleet currently in service and scheduled to reach the end of its useful life in the next few years.
In this case, the aircraft model being considered as a replacement for the CN-235 is the C-295, the same candidate as for the maritime patrol aircraft program, but in its surveillance, search and rescue configuration.
The budget for this program is 560 million euros and, as in the programs described above, its execution has been diversified over the next few years, specifically, for this program, for the period 2023-2028. 494 million will be executed between 2023 and 2026 and the remaining
Arturo Alfonso Meiriño, Major General EA (R), member of the Strategy Committee of Grupo Oesía.