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 as part of a wider Future Combat Air System (FCAS). Defence Minister Margarita Robles has submitted a letter to her French and German counterparts, Florence Parly and Ursula von der Leyen, requesting that Spain’s request to join the project be formalised in a letter of intent (LOI) or memorandum of understanding (MOU).
Currently, two projects aspire to be the European 21st Century fighter: the Franco-German program and the British Tempest, which the Netherlands and Italy have joined. 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.
Under the project, France, Germany, and now potentially Spain will develop an NGF to fly in partnership with unmanned ‘wingmen’, with the combination of these two elements comprising the Next-Generation Weapon System (NGWS). France and Germany have been publicly working together to craft the requirements for an over-arching Future Air Combat System (FCAS) since July 2017. FCAS could also include other types of drones, including a stealthy unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), in the future.
Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles “requests that the Spanish incorporation be formalized, through the signing of a Letter of Intentions (LOI, in its English acronym) or a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MOU),” a basic machine translation of the Spanish language-only press release explains. The cost of being a partner in program is estimated at around 25 million euros for the next two years.
Spain was considering options for the future replacement of its Boeing F/A-18 Hornet fleet in the 2035-plus timeframe and that it was in discussions with Dassault and Airbus, as well as a UK Team Tempest that includes BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA, and Rolls-Royce. Over the next few years, and before 2025, the Air Force must replace the first 20 US-supplied F-18 fighters deployed in the base of Gando (Canary Islands); and by 2030, the remaining 65.
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. With regards to Tempest, the United Kingdom, Italy, and The Netherlands have all decided to procure some number of F-35s in the meantime, giving them their own stealthy fifth-generation capability in the meantime. Italy became the first European F-35 operator to declare an initial operational capability with the Joint Strike Fighter on Nov. 30, 2018.