MADRID — The Spanish Navy has a midterm problem to tackle or maybe it would be more accurate to say it has a dilemma the country’s next defense minister must solve: Should the force continue with fixed-wing combat aviation and, if yes, is the F-35B the solution?

According to Admiral Chief of Naval Staff Jaime Muñoz-Delgado, "Our fleet of Harrier aircraft has a useful life until the period between 2025 and 2027. And there is only one short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) option on the market: Lockheed Martin's F-35B. This is the reality."

The Spanish naval chief registered the concern Tuesday during a meeting with reporters. The problem with this solution is a limited defense budget.

Nowadays the "Armada Española" has a fleet of 12 aircraftsAV-8B Harrier II Plus attack planes that formed the core of the 9th Aircraft Squadron more than 30 years ago.

The Spanish Navy Harriers can carry out missions ashore or from the landing helicopter dockLHD Juan Carlos I.

In November 2014, the Ministry of Defense extended the agreement to support the Harrier program after approving an investment of €47.6 million (US $54.1 million) between 2014 and 2024.

"There isn't an official plan or proposal to pursue the acquisition of F-35Bs but the problem will be there in 10 years," Admiral Chief Muñoz-Delgado stressed.

He mentioned the possibility of a joint strategy with the Spanish Air Force, which in the 2020s will need to start thinking about replacing its F-18s.

The US Marine Corps' F-35B reached initial operational capability last July 31. The variant is also being delivered to the UK, and the Italian Air Force will also operate it.