The last 90 days have been one of the most fruitful summer periods for the Spanish defence, aeronautics and space industry. Three major companies, such as the public shipyard Navantia, the technology multinational Indra and the Spanish branch of Airbus, lead the list of milestones achieved, followed by a large part of the business fabric of the sector, which have also made a profit.
On the naval side, Navantia has just begun sea trials of the corvette Al-Jubail, the first of the five warships that the shipyard is building for the Royal Saudi Arabian Naval Forces. With a displacement of around 2,500 tonnes, a length of 104 metres and a maximum speed of 27 knots, the trials will last for two months in the Bay of Cadiz to check the correct operation of the vessel and its advanced systems on board in order to prove that the ship meets the requirements of the contract signed in 2018.
Launched in July 2020, this is a milestone prior to its official delivery to the Saudi Navy, scheduled for January 2022. Around 140 people are taking part in the evaluations, 60 of whom are engineers and technicians from Navantia and companies supplying the main systems, as well as officers and non-commissioned officers from the Saudi and Spanish navies.
Around half a thousand Saudi sailors have received advanced specialisation courses in tactical procedures, operations, communications and propulsion, many of them given at the Combat Assessment and Certification Centre and the Fleet's tactical simulator at the Rota naval base (Cadiz).
The trials of the first corvette of the Alsarawat or Avante 2200 class take place shortly after the launching of the fourth unit, the corvette "Jazan", which took place on 24 July, marking the launching of four units in just 12 months. The main protagonist of the ceremony at Navantia's shipyard in Cadiz was the commander of the Royal Saudi Navy, Vice Admiral Fahad Bin Abdullah al-Ghofaily, who cut the ribbon that made a bottle of water from Mecca hit the hull of the ship. The ceremony was attended by the Chief of Staff of the Spanish Navy, Admiral Antonio Martorell, and the Vice President of the Saudi Arabian Military Industries Corporation (SAMI), Wael Alsarhan.
The president of Navantia, Ricardo Domínguez, described the Spanish shipyard's contribution to the Saudi Navy's Avante 2200 programme, which is aligned with the Kingdom's Vision 2030, as "strategic". All the new corvettes are named after cities in the Arab country: "Al-Jubail" (launched on 22 July 2020), "Al-Diriyah" (14 November 2020), "Hail" (28 March 2021), the recent "Jazan" (24 July) and the future "Unayzah", the fifth and last unit contracted, whose inaugural bath in Atlantic waters is scheduled for the beginning of next December.
The collaboration project with the Saudi Navy comes in addition to the F-110 frigates and S-80 submarines for the Spanish Navy and the results of two international competitions still underway, the progress of which became known at the beginning of September. One is the Miecznik competition organised by the Polish Ministry of Defence. The Spanish shipyard has reached the final phase of a project to build three multipurpose frigates which, if it wins, would allow it to formalise a technology transfer contract with the Polish shipyard PGZ.
The other is the Fleet Solid Support programme of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom to provide three supply vessels. Navantia is part of a consortium in which the British shipyard Harland & Wolff and the engineering company BMT participate, which has passed to the Competitive Procurement Phase. From now on, it must proceed to the design of its proposal, which will be submitted for evaluation together with those of its competitors, three industrial associations led by shipyards from Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands.
Another threshold crossed just a few weeks ago is the green light for the development of the future European fighter aircraft, a project officially known as the Next Generation Weapon System, or NGWS/FCAS. German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, French Defence Minister Florence Parly and Spanish Secretary of State for Defence Esperanza Casteleiro signed an agreement in Paris on 30 August that commits the three countries to the development of a new fighter aircraft to deal with threats that may arise up to the year 2080 or beyond.
The big novelty of what is considered to be the largest European defence project of all time, both in terms of its technological involvement and its tens of billions of euros, is that the new military aircraft must operate in an invisible combat cloud. Through it, it must maintain a dialogue and manage the attack or interception actions of different drones placed under its control, a technological challenge of enormous magnitude.
It is a mega industrial project in which three major companies are taking the lead responsibilities. They are Dassault Aviation on the French side and Airbus GmbH on the German side. As this is a highly technological initiative, the Spanish contribution is coordinated by Indra, whose defence component is led by Ignacio Mataix.
The company is directly involved in almost half of the seven technological pillars into which the large industrial contracts have been divided, such as simulation, on-board sensors and the aforementioned combat cloud, fields in which the corporation has extensive experience and international recognition. In addition, it has just signed a contract with the Spanish Ministry of Defence to complete and enhance the air surveillance network of the Spanish Air Force with a new version of the Lanza 3D radar, which can detect tactical ballistic missiles and even fifth-generation fighters.
Airbus Spain has also benefited from the NGWS/FCAS, which is responsible at the national level for the design and development of the fighter and the technologies to achieve low detectability by radar and other new generation detection systems. It is worth recalling that the Indian Ministry of Defence confirmed just a few days ago the purchase of 56 C-295 transport aircraft, of which 16 units will be manufactured and assembled in Seville.
Another initiative that took shape in the second half of June was the constitution of Satnus Technologies, a consortium formed by GMV, Sener Aeroespacial and Tecnobit-Grupo Oesía to give cohesion and strength to the Spanish contribution to the drone or Remote Operator pillar, as they are called in the framework of the NGWS/FCAS programme. Merging SENER's capabilities in guidance, navigation, control and pointing systems with those of Tecnobit in optronics, electronics and secure communications. And with those of GMV, specialised in automation, cyber defence, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. It reinforces and complements the agreement signed a few weeks earlier between Escribano M&E, GMV and Sener in the field of guided missiles and munitions.
On the space side, Elecnor Deimos put its CubeSat 3U maritime surveillance demonstrator satellite, Neptune, into orbit on 30 June. Launched from Cape Canaveral (Florida) using a Falcon 9 launcher from the US company SpaceX, it was manufactured in Puertollano (Ciudad Real) with 3D printed thermoplastics. Positioned at an altitude of around 500 kilometres and on the verifications prior to its entry into service are about to be completed, its purpose is to detect vessels with potentially criminal behaviour patterns and assign a danger profile to each one of them.