August 25, 2014 (by Bjorn Claes) - Parties forming a new Belgian government after the May general elections have agreed in principle to re-equip the Belgian Air Force with a successor of the F-16.
BAF F-16AM #FA-106 from 349 sqn is returning to Kleine Brogel AB on March 25th, 2008 armed with a JDAM bomb. [Photo by Mike Schoenmaker]
This news became clear today as part of the ongoing talks about a new center-right coalition that is taking form.
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. Since than all governments contained social-democrats and even members of the green parties, who all reject the idea as being too expensive and not necessary. Early in 2014 the Belgian Secretary of Defense (Pieter De Crem) already said that if Belgium wanted to stay a reliable and trustworthy NATO
partner, it would have to replace the venerable F-16 at its time. This obviously invoced a large protest by leftist parties at the time. In June of 2014 the Belgian DOD
quitly - although reported by in the media - started with preliminary talks with 5 governments and manufacturers about this replacement project. Unbound by politics, they decided this needed to be done in order for the politicians to make a decision when the time arrives.
The RFI was sent to these five parties:
- The Joint Program Office (JPO) in charge of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II program
- the Navy Integrated Program Office (NIPO) for the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet
- the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) of the French Ministry of Defence for the Dassault Rafale
- the Swedish Defence and Security Export Agency (FXM) for the Saab JAS-39 Gripen and
- the UK Ministry of Defence for the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Planning stands that these talks will take the entire latter 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.