October 25, 2018 (by Bjorn) - Today the Belgian government decided to buy up to 34 F-35s for its air force to replace the current fleet of 54 operational F-16s.
A Norwegian F-35 takes to the sky which cloesely resembles the version Belgium will fly.
The decision was long-awaited for. Back in 2000 the then liberal red green government decided not to enter the research phase of the then known Joint Strike Fighter. This led Belgium
to be the only country of the original F-16 partnership not to enter since the US, The Netherlands
Over the years different governments retained the fighter capability as being an important part of the Belgian defense capacities, all stating that when the time comes a bid would be submitted to buy a fighter 'off the shelf'. The former government decided in 2014 that Belgium would open a bid to replace the current F-16 fleet. To prepare for this bid the Belgian Air Force sent a Request for Information (RFI) to the original 5 government agencies responsible for selling the Lockheed-Martin F-35, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Boeing F/A-18 and the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen. When the current government came into power in 2016 the decision was taken to buy 34 new fighter aircraft with the Request for Government Proposal (RfGP) being issued in March of 2017. After this RfGP three parties pulled out of the procedure for different reasons (Gripen, F/A-18 and Rafale). Final bids were submitted in January of 2018.
The overall assessment was already finished back in May, but at that time a fierce political storm arose about the fact that both the minister as high ranking air force officers where 'accused' of withholding information regarding to a prolonged service life of the F-16. This caused the delay until after the summer with the government stalling even further until after the communal elections of October 15th.
Today, the decision finally became public. Belgium will become the 12th country to buy the F-35 and so enters the world of the 5th generation fighters. First deliveries are foreseen in 2023 and will run into 2028. This means the F-16 will be gradually taken out of service with final withdrawal foreseen in 2029, exactly 50 years after the type entered service within the Belgian Air Force. The total contract value is an estimated € 3.6 billion for the acquisition and a 40-year life cycle cost of € 12.5 billion. Economical return is projected to reach € 3.7 billion up to 2030.