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Air Combat Capability Successor Program

Belgian political leadership has been postponing the decision about the successor of the Lockheed Martin (previously General Dynamics) F-16 for years. The decision on the succession of the F-16 as well as the selection of a successor is subject to formal governmental approval envisioned to take place during the next legislature (2014-2019). Taking into account the current usage profile and the expected service life of the F-16 MLU1, Belgian Defence estimates its current fleet will gradually reach its end of life in the 2023-2028 timeframe, hence defining the F-16 Replacement Window.

The roadmap as laid out in the 02 June 2014 Belgian Defence Air Combat Capability Successor Program Preparation Survey should achieve first aircraft delivery in the 2023 timeframe with the objective to have a Basic Operational Capability, performing Quick Reaction Alert, in 2025. The Initial Operation Capability to maintain the Belgian Defence expeditionary capability is foreseen in 2027, followed by Full Operational Capability in 2029.

The intent of Belgian Defence was to implement a weapon system which is fully common with Partner Nations operating the same weapon system. Therefore Belgian Defence has no intention to require/impose the implementation of Belgian specific capabilities, systems or subsystems.

The Belgian Defence seeks to implement an operationally relevant ACCap for the coming 40 to 50 years with advanced avionics and weapons capabilities which can be easily used within the operational framework of NATO and EU and is easily maintainable. Belgian Defence recognizes the benefits linked to international cooperation regarding standardization of fighter aircraft including its associated equipment, the communalization of the operational requirements and the conservation of the interoperability of the ACCap. Therefore the Belgian Defence wishes to enter into a robust partnership with (an)other governmental organization(s) over the life cycle of the ACCap covering the procurement, the production, the overall support and the follow-on development of the ACCap.

The Belgian Air Force has worked together closely with the Royal Netherlands Air Force. After the government of neighboring the Netherlands announced 17 September 2013 to go ahead with the purchase of 37 F-35A Lightning II (Joint Strike Fighter), the Belgium government seemed eager to choose a similar path. Some sources say the Belgians pursue to acquire 35 to 55 new fighter jets, but those numbers seem quite high and only based on the current force strength of 60 F-16s. It is much more likely Brussels will order 24 to 28 new aircraft if one considers the size of the Dutch order and compares the geographical size of Belgium to its northern neighbor.

A meeting between the US ambassador to Brussels and Belgium's defense minister Pieter De Crem on 16 October 2009 was described in a cable. The cable notes that De Crem raised the subject of the F-35 during the meeting. "He thinks that the [Belgian government] should purchase some of the aircraft 'off the shelf' from the partners as they become available, perhaps in the 2020 timeframe," the US embassy wrote. De Crem "recognized that Belgium is too late to enter the production process of the aircraft as a partner", the cable noted.

In the late-1970s, Belgium joined with the Netherlands and Norway to jointly purchase Lockheed F-16A/Bs. The Netherlands and Norway signed up in 2002 to participate in the development of the F-35. However, Belgium did not join them. Although Norway and the Netherlands invested and helped develop the F-35, both countries solicited bids before making a formal decision to buy the Lockheed stealth fighter.

By 2011 later De Crem was still in office, but it was not clear if Belgium's plans had changed. Since the October 2009 meeting with the US ambassador, the US government has announced two major delays and restructurings of the F-35 program. These delayed the end of the development phase by at least three years and pushed hundreds of planned fighter purchases beyond 2015.

In June 2014 the Belgian DOD started with preliminary talks with 5 governments and manufacturers about this replacement project. They decided this needed to be done in order for the politicians to make a decision when the time arrived.

The RFI was sent to these five parties:

  1. The Joint Program Office (JPO) in charge of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II program
  2. the Navy Integrated Program Office (NIPO) for the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet
  3. the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) of the French Ministry of Defence for the Dassault Rafale
  4. the Swedish Defence and Security Export Agency (FXM) for the Saab JAS-39 Gripen and
  5. the UK Ministry of Defence for the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Planning stood that these talks will take the entire later part of 2014 and a large part of 2015 with the Belgian DoD planning to make the internal assessment of all proposals in 2016 and request for a formal LOI that would make a government decision possible in 2018. This way the new aircraft would find its way to the Belgian Air Force starting in 2023.

By August 2014 parties forming a new Belgian government after the May general elections had agreed in principle to re-equip the Belgian Air Force with a successor of the F-16. The debate about whether Belgium should replace it's current fleet of 54 F-16s after they reach their retirement between 2023 and 2031 has been going on since 1999.

In March 2017 the Belgian government decided to launch a $ 3.6 billion tender procedure for the new fighters to replace the current aircraft used by the Belgian Air Force (Force Aerienne Belge), the multi-purpose fighter F-16. Currently Force Aerienne Belge had fifty four multi-purpose fighters F-16, to be replaced in the coming years by thirty-four new fighters.

Spokesman for the Belgian Ministry of Defence Laurence Mortier said "We expect that the purchase of new machines will cost 3.6 billion euros and further training and service is planned amount of 1.2 billion euros".

The total sum of the program to modernize the air force assuming the purchase of new fighter aircraft to be in service for about 40 years could reach 15 billion euros. The winner of this billion dollar contract will be announced probably in 2018, but now the government mentioned a list of five companies that were invited to tender. These are the American Lockheed-Martin of the fifth generation fighter F-35, Boeing with a modernized version of an F-18 Hornet. Other proposals are French company Dassault Rafael and Eurofighter, whose flagship product is the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Swedish Saab Gripen fighter E. The first F-16 Belgians bought in the 1970s of the twentieth century, together with the Dutch, Danes and Norwegians who they have decided to replace their F-35 fighters.

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Page last modified: 28-03-2017 18:36:33 ZULU