After the Dutch, will Belgium choose the F-35 too?

F-35A Lightning IIs perform an aerial refueling mission with a KC-135 Stratotanker May 13, 2013, off the coast of northwest Florida. (Image © USAF / Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen)
F-35A Lightning IIs perform an aerial refueling mission with a KC-135 Stratotanker May 13, 2013, off the coast of northwest Florida. (Image © USAF / Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen)

After the government of neighbouring the Netherlands announced yesterday to go ahead with the purchase of 37 F-35A Lightning II (Joint Strike Fighter), the Belgium government seems eager to choose a similar path.

According to international press agency Reuters on Wednesday September 18, 2013, experts of manufacturer Lockheed Martin have recently briefed Belgian government officials. Several US government senior officials seem to have confirmed this, and Belgian minister of Defence De Crem has confirmed to Belgium medium De Tijd he is interested.

Since Belgium is no high level partner in the early development of the new stealthy American fighter it is unclear when the first Belgian Air Component F-35s could land at Florennes and Kleine Brogel airbases, even if the planes would be procured tomorrow. However, a possible decision is not expected before the end of 2014.

Like the Royal Netherlands Air Force the Belgian Air Component flies the F-16AM and F-16BM Fighting Falcon. Some sources say the Belgians pursue to acquire 35 to 55 new fighter jets, but those numbers seem quite high and only based on the current force strength of 60 F-16s. It is much more likely Brussels will order 24 to 28 new aircraft if one considers the size of the Dutch order and compares the geographical size of Belgium to its northern neighbour.

2 squadrons
This number might mean a squadron of 12 aircraft at both Kleine Brogel and Florennes, with four aircraft in reserve to replace machines lost in accidents, or go the Danish way and put all fighters on one airbase. In that case Kleine Brogel might hold the best cards. One of those is the B-61 nuclear bomb depot of the US Air Force there, a publicly well-known ‘secret’.

French manufacturer Dassault and the French government are expected to put their full weight in trying to win Belgian members of parliament to their side to choose the Dassault Rafale fighter instead. The oppositional Green party already seems reluctant to choose the F-35 – or a new fighter jet as such – and rather goes on the path of European co-operation or division of labour between the European countries.

© 2013 AIRheads’ Marcel Burger

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