Sources inside Spain’s military have reportedly told a Spanish newspaper that only a handful of the country’s Eurofighter Typhoon jets are fully operational and that semi-retired F-18 aircraft are being called back into full service to meet NATO commitments.
According to Spanish daily El Confidencial Digital, the fleet is plagued by support system failures which have been linked to a chronic lack of cash in Spain’s treasury, The Local in Spain reports.
With a fleet of 30 aircraft needed to maintain ten combat ready aircraft, the cuts in the Spanish Defence budget has hit the maintenance of the fleet. Experts report that the government has had a real reluctance to stump up cash for anything other than the basic essentials.
The claims come just a day after Spain announced plans to pump €10 billion ($12.7 billion) into new defence programs after six years of cutbacks as a result of the economic crisis.
Eurofighters were not, however, named in the list of projects due to receive a funding boost.
Only six Eurofighters in Spain’s Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) service in bases at Morón de la Frontera and Albacete are currently capable of taking off, according to military insiders. These jets are kept ready to scramble 24 hours a day, year-round, to intercept suspicious aircraft in Spanish airspace.
Spain only ordered a total of 73 Eurofighters: 19 of the original Tranche 1, 34 of tranche 2 and 20 of Tranche 3A.
These Tranche 1 aircraft have major support issues, acknowledged by the industry and experts say little planning has taken place to support the jets once they have been delivered.
In addition, the contract with Eurofighter for the redesigns associated with delivering the upgraded did not include any provision for later components to be compatible with the earlier T1 jets. Subsequently, companies stopped building the new components, leading to a shortfall.
The UK has been competent at funding spare parts for its fleet but the same cannot be said of Spain. Insiders say it may be that the Spanish will want financial support from the other partner nations. But given that the UK will be giving up using those type of aircraft in four years time, there is little chance of that happening.
In June, Spain’s foreign minister José Manuel García Margallo claimed that four Eurofighters would be sent to the Baltic region as part of the country’s NATO commitments. But because of the condition of the Eurofighter fleet, sources inside the military claim that ageing F-18 fighter jets were being prepared to be sent instead.
Official Ministry of Foreign Affairs sources denied this and insisted that Spain would still be able to send Eurofighters as originally intended. They also denied the existence of any shortage of spare parts.
Experts say it is likely that the UK will almost certainly withdraw its entire Tranche 1 fleet within the next four years as they become increasingly impractical and not as capable as later models. But whilst the UK may escape serious capability problems, especially if AC(II) is kept as a Tornado squadron, concerns have been raised that after Spain, it will be Germany and Italy next.