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Belgium quietly starts process for its F-16 fighter replacement

June 11, 2014 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The Belgian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has issued a request for information (RFI) to five foreign government agencies regarding various aircraft that could replace the national air force's ageing F-16 Fighting Falcon fleet.

BAF F-16AM #FA-87 from 31 sqn takes off displaying a tiger striped paint scheme for the NATO Tiger Meet 2012 at Ørland AB on June 1st, 2012. [Photo by Jörg Stange]

The RFI simply aims to gather information beyond the open-source data used for initial evaluation. It does not commit to a future purchase nor to the selection of a specific aircraft.

The RFI has been issued to:
  • 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.

The RFI marks the first step in a process that might lead to the acquisition of a new fighter before the retirement of the F-16s starts in 2023.

The MoD prefers a government-to-government agreement, rather than a commercial purchase from a contractor, according to officials.

For the first time, De Crem had voiced his opinion in December 2013 to acquire around 40 new fighters during the incoming legislature, to ensure Belgium remains a reliable partner within NATO and the European Union (EU), according to the news agency Belga.

The acquisition is expected to cost €4 billion, and the selection is likely to take place in 2015 or early 2016, to facilitate the aircraft's entry into service between 2023 and 2025, when the F-16s will retire, subject to approval from the next federal government.

The RFI does not mention the number of new aircraft to be acquired.

Belgium originally ordered 160 F-16s, which first entered service in 1979. They currently have 49 F-16A and 10 F-16B block 20 Mid Life Upgrade aircraft in their inventory. Recently the Belgian Air Force also requested an operational flight program software upgrade to further enhance the capabilities of those fighters.