Spain has been observing how, for a few years now, the situation in the Strait of Gibraltar, one of the key points of world maritime traffic and a fundamental element for our geostrategic role, has become more complicated. Around 100,000 vessels pass through its waters every year, which represents more than 10% of international traffic, but it is also an obligatory passage for military ships of all the great powers: Turkey, Italy, France, the United States Sixth Fleet or the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy, in addition to Algeria and Morocco and, of course, Spain. With its 60 kilometers long and barely 14 kilometers wide, this enclave is the natural connection between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
But not everything is played in the sea. The rearmament that our North African neighbors have been carrying out in recent years is not limited to their navies or their ground troops, but also affects air power and no country wants to be left behind.
Situation of Spain
The Spanish Armed Forces have been dreaming of the F-35 for yearswhich for many is the best combat aircraft in the world and which several Western armies already have, such as the United States, Italy, Germany, Norway, Japan, Israel, the Netherlands or the United Kingdom. For Spain they would be like rain in May for the Navy to replace the old Harriers aboard the aircraft carrier Juan Carlos I.
The Air Force also considered them to supply the F-18 based in the Canary Islands, which will soon be discharged, although in principle it seems that in this case they will be the euro fighter the chosen ones.
The Navy specified last year that its needs go through a maximum of 12 aircraft to replace the fleet of the same number of HarrierAV-8B+ with vertical takeoff and landing (STOVL) capacity that it currently has. The reality, at the moment, is that the Spanish authorities officially requested in 2021 information on a possible purchase of fighter planes F-35B for the Navy. The RFIas this investigation procedure prior to any negotiation is known by its acronym in English, is a non-binding formula in which in no case has a specific number of aircraft been included. That will have to be decided, if the process advances, when more information is obtained (price, terms, etc.) to assess the possible purchase.
It is also true that last August a delegation from the Ministry of Defence met in Arlington, Virginia, with Lieutenant General Erick Fickof the US Air Force (USAF) in the so-called Joint Program Office (Joint Program Office, JPO) of the fighter F-35 Lightning IIwhich is the entity in charge of managing the project for this aircraft.
These steps corroborate the Navy’s well-known interest in the American fighter, which I might end up getting it, point from the Navy. “Although the Air Force is studying various options, In the case of the Navy, the current solution involves the acquisition of the F-35Bas it is the only aircraft on the market with STOVL capability”.
Currently, the Air Force has about 70 Eurofighter Tiphoon in wings 11 and 14, in Morón (Seville) and Los Llanos (Albacete), respectively, and as many F-18 in wings 12, 15 and 46 of the bases from Torrejón de Ardoz (Madrid), Zaragoza and Gando (Las Palmas).
And why is the acquisition of the F-35 so important for Spain?
beyond that the F-35 is the only plane right now that allows vertical landing and takeoff in order to replace the Harriers of the Juan Carlos I, it is no less true that Spain, due to its geographical position and its key role in controlling the Strait of Gibraltar, needs not to lag behind the rest of the armed forces in the area and, especially, those of the North African countries, which in recent years have undergone an important process of rearmament, especially Morocco and Algeria.
Although nothing is firm yet, various sources assure that Morocco would be considering the purchase of F-35. In fact, would have asked Israel to convince the United States to allow them to sell the F-35in response to Algeria, which in turn would be in negotiations with Russia to buy 14 Russian Su-57 combat aircraft, the fifth-generation multipurpose fighter manufactured by Sukhoi and which was born to become the most complete stealth aircraft in the world. In practice, it would be the direct rival of the F-35 and there are many experts who say that it would be superior in several aspects.
If the purchase of this aircraft is confirmed, Morocco would be left in a disadvantaged position with its current fleet of F-16Hence the interest in not being left behind in the arms race that both powers have maintained in recent years, one hand in hand with the United States and the other with Russia. Tensions between these two Maghreb neighbors have been rising since the latter unilaterally severed diplomatic ties, triggering a regional arms race.
During the recent trip of the Israeli Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, to Morocco, King Mohamed VI would have met with him in private and would have talked about the current tensions with Algeria. In addition, he stated that Moroccan intelligence “confirms” that Algeria is “planning hostilities on Moroccan borders”, that it has not maintained diplomatic relations with Rabat since August.
The Algerian air force has also reportedly signed two other earlier contracts for 14 Su-34 bombers and 14 Su-35 air dominance aircraft.. An option was also signed for a further two squadrons of 14 aircraft for each aircraft type to compensate for the natural withdrawal of aircraft from the Air Force fleet in the near future.
According to RT, the media outlet linked to the Putin government, the Su-57 contract should be completed by 2025, in this timeframe the Algerian Army will deploy two Su-30MKA wings, one Su-57 squadron, one Su-35 squadron and one Mig-29M2 squadron to dominate the air, two squadrons of improved Su-24s and one of Su-34s for the bomber fleet. The transformation of the pilots will be carried out on board the Yak-130.
With this contract, Algeria will become the first country on the southern coast of the Mediterranean to have stealth aircraft and fifth-generation aircraft.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Spanish Armed Forces have shown their concern about this situation. Although the Air Force has the modern Eurofighter and the most veteran F-18, we would not be talking about fifth-generation fighters, as the F-35 and Su-57 are.