Belgium’s first F-35 II Lightning will be delivered in 2023, and all of the country’s F-16 fighter jets will be decommissioned by 2028. The Belgian government chose the American F-35 fighter jet to replace the present F-16 jets, which need to be replaced due to old age. At least, that's according to the Belgian press agency Belga, which cited "various sources within the government". If the decision is confirmed, it meant the end of a very long process. The selection procedure was started in March 2017, 19 months earlier. The contract for 34 new fighter jets is worth 3.5 billion euros, but if the F-35 fighter jets will have a lifespan of 40 years, this amount will reach 15 billion.
Each nuclear-capable F-35, including onboard weapons and pilot training, will cost the country 76.3 million euros ($86 million), with the total cost amounting to almost 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) less than the 3.6 billion ($4 billion) as originally planned. According to local media, in the next 40 years Belgium plans to allocate a total of 15 billion euros ($17 billion) for the purchase and maintenance of new fighter-bombers.
The American government proposed the F-35 Lightning II from the Lockheed Martin group. The offer officially ran out, but is said to have been extended with two weeks. Belga's sources said that "the decision has been made and the F-35 comes out on top, but now we are looking for the right way to explain our decision." There was no formal, official confirmation 21 October 2018. Among the other contenders was the Eurofighter Typhoon. Eurofighter is a British-German-Italian group.
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. In the summer of 1999, the Belgian Air Force expressed an interest in the JSF programme with a view to replacing its F-16 fighter aircraft in the 2010-2015 timeframe.
The private sector too voiced the wish thatBelgium should partner the JSF program and pay the requisite $10 million “entrance fee” for the Concept Definition Phase. By 2000, the debate shifted to the System Development and Demonstration [SDD] phase, with a ten-fold greater contribution required. These JSF debates became intermingled with the debates about participation in the A400M military transport airplane project.
While the Belgian Air Force is a national level entity, the development of the plane and the technological innovation, plus the economic investments involved with it, fell within the regional competences. Two of the three regions were prepared to contribute to the JSF, but the Flemish government was of the opinion that the decision to pay was an exclusive federal competence, reflecting the historic strength of pacifist sentiment in Flanders, dating back to the Great War. Ultimately, the Belgian authorities decided to participate in the development of the A400M, but not in the JSF fighter plane project.
In 2002, the Belgian government decided to impose a “single structure” on its armed forces in which the independent Belgian Air Force ceased to exist. Belgium was identified by Lockheed Martin officials asone of the possible buyers in presentations to the industry in 2007. In February 2009 Jim Wolf of Reuters reported that "Finland and Belgium have expressed interest to the JPO,” said Chris Geisel, a Lockheed spokesman, referring to the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program office."
On May 28, 2002, Memorandum of Understanding documents were signed by the Danish National Armaments Director and the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, committing Denmark to participation in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) system development and demonstration phase. The commitment spans a period of 10 years.
Belgium was identified by Lockheed Martin officials as one of the possible buyers in presentations to industry in 2007. The presentation mentions also a start of the acquisition process in 2013 with Letter of Acceptance procedure in 2014 and contract finalising early 2015. First F-35As would be delivered in 2017. Also in a document produced for the Dutch Parliament (Basis Document, 2001) a possible requirement of 48+ Belgian planes to replace the current F-16s had been mentioned. However, much of this was commercial wishful thinking.
In February 2009 manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp. said Finland and Belgium had become the latest countries to speak to the Pentagon about possible purchase of the multinational F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
When the decision process started in 2015 the F-35 may be one of the contenders, but also European choices like Dassault Rafale and the cheaper to operate Saab Gripen were candidates. A maximum number of 40-45 aircraft seemed to be realistic.
Belgium would purchase the Joint Strike Fighter when the lifespan of Belgium's existing fleet of F-16's expires, estimated to be 2015 for the oldest planes and continuing up to about 2025. Belgium's 50 F-16As and 10 F-16Bs ranged in age from 20 years to 30 years. Belgium is too late to enter the production process of the aircraft as a partner. However, Belgium would purchase some of the aircraft "off the shelf" from the partners as they become available, perhaps in the 2020 time frame.
In September 2017, the US aircraft-manufacturing giant Boeing (the maker of the Super Hornet F/A-18 fighter-bomber) and the Swedish Saab (JAS-39 E Gripen) pulled out of the competition along with France, which had offered Brussels its own Rafale F3R fighter in exchange for "an in-depth and structural partnership" together with France and Germany, to develop a new generation of combat aircraft by 2040 as part of a European defense initiative.
In February 2018, the F-35's maker, Lockheed Martin, and British BAE Systems (Eurofighter Typhoon fighter) were the only bidders in a 3.6 billion euro ($4.1 billion) tender for 34 fighter jets to replace Belgium's aging fleet of F-16s, as Boeing and the Swedish Saab had previously pulled out of the competition. France, however, offered Brussels its own Rafale F3R fighter in exchange for "an in-depth and structural partnership" together with France and Germany, to develop a new generation of combat aircraft by 2040 as part of a European defense initiative. "It's a decision that was the result of a process which I greatly respect and which was linked to political constraints specific to Belgium, which are not for me to comment upon, but strategically it goes against European interests," said Macron at a news conference held with Slovak President Andrej Kiska, adding that he regretted "the choice that was made." The French president addressed Belgium’s decision to buy the Lockheed Martin planes for 4 billion euros ($4.5 billion) in order to boost the kingdom’s air force. Many French media outlets described the decision as a betrayal of the “European” choice. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said that buying F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation fighters from the US was a more commercially viable option, as Paris had not yet decided the final price for its Rafale F3R aircraft. “We asked the French to provide explanations concerning their proposal and price, but this was not done,” Michel said in an interview with the broadcasting company RTBF.
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