The F-35A was selected ahead of a bid by the Eurofighter consortium with the Typhoon, and an unofficial offer from Dassault and the French Government for the Rafale, with official Belgian government approval being confirmed on October 25.
Belgium plans to initially acquire 34 F-35As as it seeks to replace 54 F-16s. Reuters reported that Belgian Defence Minister Steven Vandeput said the F-35 has beaten the Typhoon and Rafale in all seven selection criteria.
In a statement, Lockheed Martin said it “is honoured by the Belgian government’s selection of the F-35A Lightning II for their future national security needs. We look forward to supporting the U.S. government in delivering the F-35 program to meet the requirements of the Belgian government.”
The latest order joins Foreign Military Sales (FMS) orders from Israel, Japan and South Korea, all of which now have aircraft flying in test, training, or operational units. JSF partner nations including the US, UK, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands and Australia all have F-35s operational or in training, and Denmark‘s first F-35As are due to be delivered early next year.
Of the other partner nations, Turkey’s participation in the program is currently suspended due to that country’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 air defence system, and Canada is re-competing its fighter replacement program with a decision due in 2020/21.
This is the future @BeAirForce. With the purchase of #F35A fighter jets to replace the #F16 and reconnaissance drones, we ensure your safety and that of our servicemen @BelgiumDefence and we remain a small but reliable partner for our allies @NATO, @EU and @UN . #Security pic.twitter.com/hNU8tgNkfFPROMOTED CONTENT
— Belgian Air Force?? (@BeAirForce) October 25, 2018
Airbus has released a statement on the decision, claiming it is a “lost opportunity for European Defence.”
The company says its Eurofighter bid would have “represented a superior choice both in terms of operational capability and industrial opportunities” for Belgium, including a claimed economic benefit of “more than €19 billion (A$30.5bn) direct contribution to the Belgian economy.”
“This partnership could have also laid the path for Belgium to join the Franco-German Future Combat Air System program, which Airbus is currently defining with its strong industrial partner Dassault Aviation,” the statement adds.
The Belgian government selected the #F35 to replace its F-16 aircraft, building on a 40-year defense partnership with @LockheedMartin. We’re excited to bring unrivaled capability and industrial benefits to Belgium. More here: https://t.co/7hmQFO4T9Q pic.twitter.com/biVcXwPYHl
— F-35 Lightning II (@thef35) October 25, 2018