Year 2023. That’s the date military sources point to as the critical time for our Armed Forces. Especially for the Air Force. As I pointed out several months ago, the national defense situation is unsustainable. Half measures are no longer worthwhile. In some cases, the situation has become irreversible.
This is the case of the P-3 Orion planes, in charge of maritime surveillance in our country. These aircraft, which date back to 1973, are now at the end of their useful life, to put it elegantly. The three P-3s that the Air Force has will probably be replaced by the Airbus C-295 Persuader. This is the first option, according to military sources consulted.
However, while the future acquisition order is being processed, the Air Force will have to manage with the aging P-3s and C-235s, with over 40 years on their service records. In any country, the surveillance of its seas is fundamental, but in a peninsular country like ours, it reaches vital proportions.
But this is not the only capability our Armed Forces will lose. Having aviation on board, capable of operating from an aircraft carrier, is also at risk. The Navy’s Harriers are so outdated that the units’ own maintenance has become extremely difficult, as their pieces are barely being manufactured. In this specific case, and given the need for a device that can perform a vertical takeoff, the options for replacement are clear.
Either we buy the F-35B, of American origin, or we lose this capacity. It’s as simple as that. However, if the technical question is simple enough, the political one is not. Spain, as a member of the European Union, has just ratified its participation in a European programme for the construction of a new fighter plane: the FCAS (Future Combat Air System). However, this programme is in its embryonic stage, and is not expected to be operational until 2040.
If the political decision-makers opt, as it seems, for the European alternative, both the Navy and the Air Force will be forced to reduce their capabilities. In particular, the Canary Islands squadron, which has the oldest models, as well as the four remaining F-18 squadrons, which will end their operational life in the coming years.
An intermediate option could be the purchase of a small quota of F-35s, mainly to replace the Navy’s Harriers (12-14 aircrafts), and the remaining F-18s with new generation Eurofighters (30-32 aircraft). With this operation, Spain would maintain its commitment to the European industry and, at the same time, it would manage to keep a critical capacity such as the fixed wing in the Armada (onboard aviation). If it is lost, the Projection Force would be deprived of air support, which would leave it practically defenceless.
The Navy and the Air Force are set to reduce their capabilities
It is also necessary to consider the influence that Spain will have on the FCAS project, in which it participates together with France and Germany. Both countries had already been working on it for a year before the Spanish Government took office. This means that our nation will be left out of the first two phases, known as Implementation Arrangement 1 and 2 (IA1 and IA2).
The IA1, signed in October by France and Germany, was crucial, as its purpose is to study the joint concept. Spain signed this agreement at the end of December. Regarding the IA2, which includes the technological demonstrators of five pillars of the plane (platform, engine, combat cloud, remote carries and simulation laboratory), it is expected that the Gauls and Germans will ratify it in the coming days. Spain will do so at the end of April.
This example shows the situation in which our Armed Forces find themselves. After years of cutbacks, reduced investment and lack of new projects, their capabilities are being severely depleted. If this is not reversed immediately, our country will be in serious danger. Meanwhile, our neighbours continue to reduce the a priori advantage of our Armed Forces.
Morocco continues to buy large quantities of American equipment  (Abrams tanks, auxiliary parts, spare parts…) and Algeria has made a qualitative leap forward by obtaining the capacity to attack on land from a submarine. In fact, it is the only Mediterranean country (along with Israel) that has it. Not even France has it.
Meanwhile, Spain is not following the same path as our environment, which is legitimately being strengthened. On the contrary, it is still absorved in the Kantian fallacy of perpetual peace. Let us hope that it is not yet too late.