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Spainish Air Force (Ejercito del Aire) - 1980s

The Spainish Air Force (Ejercito del Aire), with a personnel strength of 33,000 as of 1987, of whom about 18,000 were conscripts, was organized into four operational commands--combat, tactical, transport, and Canary Islands. The Combat Air Command (Mando Aereo de Combate--MACOM) had, as its mission, control over national airspace through the use of offensive and defensive interceptor operations. As of 1987, MACOM consisted of seven squadrons equipped with F-18 Hornets, F-4 Phantoms, Mirage F-1s, and Mirage IIIs.

The F-18s, introducted in 1986, were among the world's most up-to-date multipurpose fighter aircraft, with advanced navigational and target acquisition systems. Associated weaponry included Sparrow and Sidewinder antiaircraft missiles, HARM antiradar missiles, and Harpoon antiship missiles. The F-18s would permit replacement of the F-4 Phantoms, high-performance fighters of the 1960s generation. The version of Mirage III in the Spanish inventory, first introduced in 1964, was designed as a long-range fighter-bomber intruder. A more recent Mirage model, the F-1, was purchased in the 1974-75 period by the air force. The Mirage IIIs were scheduled to have new electronic attack and navigation systems installed, so that they could be kept in service through the 1990s.

The Tactical Air Command (Mando Aereo Tactico--MATAC) had, as its mission, the support of ground forces. It was equipped with ten squadrons of SF-5 aircraft, one squadron of six Orion P-3A maritime reconnaissance aircraft, and one squadron of DO-27 type liaison aircraft. The SF-5s, modeled after the Northrop-designed American F-5, were assembled in Spain in three versions: attack-fighters, reconnaissance aircraft, and two-seat trainers. Modifications being carried out in 1987, involving installation of new communications, a plane identification system, and updated navigation and landing aids, were intended to keep the SF-5 operational until a replacement was available in the late 1990s. This was expected to be either one designed and manufactured in Spain or a more advanced model available through Spain's participation in the European fighter program (see Defense Production , this ch.).

The Air Transport Command (Mando Aereo de Transporte--MATRA) provided airlift capacity for the three services, as well as air evacuation, disaster relief, and paratroop carriers. The command possessed sixty aircraft, and it could conduct heavy logistical operations, using five C-130 Hercules transports and six KC-130s (for aerial refueling). The Spanish-built CASA C-212 Aviocar was the mainstay of the light transport fleet.

The Canary Islands Air Command (Mando Aereo de Canarias--MACAN) was a mixed unit equipped to carry out multiple missions--interceptor, ground attack, transport, surveillance, and antisubmarine--at a distance of 1,500 kilometers from the mainland. Its air fleet included a squadron of Mirage F-1s armed for both interceptor and ground attack operations, a unit of ten CASA C-212 Aviocar light transports, and a squadron equipped for antisubmarine warfare with Fokker F-27 patrol aircraft and Aerospatiale AS-332B Super Puma helicopters.

The modernization efforts of the air force centered on the acquisition of seventy-two F-18s, produced by McDonnell Douglas in the United States. The Air Force initially expressed a requirement for 144 F-18s, but it was reduced to 72 aircraft because of the high price. The enormous cost of these aircraft and their related missile and bomb weaponry has left little money for anything else.

The first such planes--known as the EF-18A in Spain--arrived in 1986, and the final deliveries were scheduled for 1990. The cost of this program, which amounted to US$1.8 billion for the aircraft alone, was to be offset in full by expenditures in Spain. These were to include support and overhaul for CF-18s of the Canadian Air Force in Europe and for F-18s of the United States Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.

The Phantom had been out of front-line service with the EdA for nearly ten years when eight ex-USAF RF-4Cs taken from the 123rd TRW, Kentucky ANG were delivered to Spain in 1989 to form a new 123 Escuadron within Ala 12 at Torrejon. These planes were acquired to fill in the void until the Spanish Hornets could be fitted with a reconnaissance pod.

By the late 1980s the necessity for modernizing the Mirage III was a result of the cut suffered, before its approval, by the program for the Future Combat and Attack Plane (FA-CA), designed to provide the Air Force with modern equipment that would be capable of replacing, with advantages, other more antiquated types, with many hours of flight behind them. The report prepared in 1978 by the Air Force Staff noted that the new aircraft should, by about 1984, replace the F-4C, F-5, and Mirage III, which were no longer operational, "owing to their physical old age and their technical obsoleteness." At that time, the Air Force's plans entailed the purchaseof nearly 150 new aircraft; a desire that failed to be corroborated later, because of reality. The budgetary requirements reduced those expectations in half. Ultimately, only 72 F-18's would arrive in Spain. This curtailment forced a reconsideration of extending the operational live of the Mirage III, the aircraft which arrived in 1970 at the Manises air base, and which, by 1983, had already logged over 50,000 flight hours. It was then that consideration was given to the program to modernize these airplanes. The modernization would include, basically, a thorough modification in the avionics (flight electronics) of the aircraft, which had become antiquated and was turning the Mirage into an overly vulnerable target. Changes would also have to be made in the aircraft's structure.

The principal MACOM bases were at Zaragoza, at Torrejon near Madrid, at Albacete, and at Manises near Valencia. The initial F-18 deliveries were assigned to two operational MACOM squadrons based at Zaragoza. Subsequent deliveries would replace the F-4s of two squadrons at Torrejon and two Mirage III squadrons at Manises. The SF-5s of MATAC were based at Moron de la Frontera (Moron), and the P-3A Orionss were at Jerez de la Frontera near Cadiz.

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Page last modified: 16-01-2013 19:00:43 ZULU