Boeing has dropped out of the race to replace the F-16 in Belgian service. The aircaft manufacturer, which offered its F/A-18 Sper Hornet, claims the competition is unfair and the playing field ‘not even’. The move comes as nu surprise, since the odds in Belgium seem very much in favour of the Lockheed Martin F-35.
The Belgian government in Brussels has put aside 3.5 billion EUR to replace 54 F-16 with a total of 34 new jets. The first new fighter jet should enter service in 2023.
Still in competition are the Lockheed Martin F-35, Dassault Rafale, Saab Gripen and Eurofighter Typhoon. A final decision is expected in 2018.
Belgium will use the F-16 until 2028. Of the original European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) in the seventies, Belgium will use the F-16 the longest. The other participating countries – the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark – all already selected the F-35 as their F-16 replacement. Norway is expected to loose its F-16 by 2021, with the Netherlands following in 2023. Denmark should not be far behind.
The Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II on Tuesday 22 November took a major hit. Not in any mock 1 vs 1 dog fight or any large scale military exercise, but in the political arena. By choosing the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as an interim solution to its immediate fighter jet needs, Canada is signalling that the F-35’s development takes to long and its price tag is to high.
Canada is looking to buy 18 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as immediate replacements of ageing ‘legacy’ model F-18 Hornets. If a deal with Boeing is finalized, delivery of new jets should take no more than two or three years.
With the F-35, that would take considerably longer, not to mention the fact that development and testing of this 5th generation fighter jet – and its software along with it – may not even be finished by then. Recent progress in the program still doesn’t mean the jet is capable of firing its internal gun, for example.
Canada has pondered and postponed an F-35 purchase for many years. Today’s selection of the Super Hornet does not exclude the possibility that the Canadian government in Ottawa may still purchase the F-35 at a later stage. However, the 400 billion USD weapons program has been the subject of much criticism in Canada, especially its 100 million USD per piece price tag.
Nevertheless, Canada’s choice is remarkable and concerning for Lockheed Martin and the F-35’s Joint Program Office (JPO) in Washington, since the country is a level 3 partner in the program. Other level 3 partners are Australia, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, all of which have selected the F-35 as their new fighter jet.
In fact, Canada now is unique in being the only partner nation in the program not to actually buy the F-35 – for now. By doing so, it’s industry will benefit from taking part in the program, without tax payers having to cough up billions of dollars to actually buy the jets. For other nations however, it means that their jets will have higher price tags, since fewer jets sold means that development and production costs per aircraft remain higher than anticipated. That will cause some sour faces in other partner nations.
Yes, both Lockheed Martin and Ottawa will downplay this and probably point to a possible Canadian fighter jet competition still to be held. But the truth is, it is a major hit for the JPO’s promise of lower unit costs and the F-35’s reputation – which saw a change for the better in 2016, partly due to appearances in the Netherlands and the UK.
It will be interesting to see what comes out of other fighter jet competitions that see the F-35 and Super Hornet go head to head, such as the current ones in Belgium and Finland. The former beat the latter earlier this year in Denmark. Following today’s decision in Canada, that makes the score even.
The US State Department this week approved the sale of 72 F-15QA fighter jets to Qatar, plus 40 F-18E/F Super Hornet jets to Kuwait. Although contracts for both deals remain unsigned for now, it’s good news for Boeing and the company’s production of fighter jets.
The Qatar contract is worth 21.1 billion USD in total, while the Kuwaiti deal for 32 single and 8 dual seat Super Hornets involves 10.1 billion USD. The White House approved the proposed sale earlier this year, following a long time of delays and uncertainty. Meanwhile, Qatar sought out 24 Dassault Rafales for 7.5 billion USD, while Kuwait chose to buy 28 Eurofighter Typhoons from Italy for 9.1 billion USD.
These signed deals for European fighter jets raise the question wether both countries will still actually take the bait now layed out by the US. While requested by Qatar and Kuwait years ago, the actual purchase of F-15s and F-18s is far from final. Following the approval from Washington and this week’s green light from the State Departement, both countries remained quiet.
However, it is no secret that money flows easily in both Qatar and Kuwait, and that’s reason enough for Boeing to be in a festive mood. The F-15 and F-18 have generated cash flow since 1972 and 1980 respectively, and now are likely to do that for a couple of years more.
Currently, Boeing is producing what at first seemed to be the last batch of advanced F-15 Eagles for Saudi Arabia, plus the final F-18 Super Hornets and F-18 Growlers for the US Navy and Australia. The many US jobs involved now seem safe for some time to come.
After many years of hesitation, the US this week gave the green light for the sale of fighter jets to Kuwait and Qatar – although it may very well be too late. Since requesting the jets, both countries have decided to buy Eurofighter Typhoons and Dassault Rafales respectively. Their response to the green light from Washington remains unclear at this time.
Kuwait in 2015 requested to buy up at least F-18 Super Hornets to replace ageing older model F-18s, while Qatar’s request to purchase up to 72 Boeing F-15s goes even further back. Washington since has kept both countries in the dark about their request right until this week, when the White House notified US Congress that it approves the sale of the fighter jets.
The decision should be seen in light of the recent multi-billion military aid deal between the US and Israel, the biggest ever between those two countries. Probably to keep things in balance, the White House now decided to favour Kuwait’s and Qatar’s requests as well – doing the US economy a big favour on the side. Both contracts would be worth billions and billions of dollars (in fact, 20 billion in total), much of which will go into Boeing’s pocket. The aircraft manufacturer produces both the F-15 and F-18.
That’s a lot of money to pay already. It may be the same money that Kuwait and Qater waved in front of the US before. Time will tell if there is any money left for Washington and Boeing to grab. If not, then Washington may hope to sell brand new F-16s to Bahrain – another pending deal that was okayed this week by Washington.
UPDATED | Rescue workers on Tuesday found the wreckage of a Swiss Air Force Boeing F-18 Hornet that went missing on Monday 29 August. The single seat aircraft disappeared near Susten in the southern part of the Alpine country. The pilot is still missing.
Update Wednesday 31 August | Authorities confirmed the pilot was killed in the crash.
The aircraft had taken off from Meiringen airbase in the company of another Hornet shortly before it went missing. Weather was challenging at that time, with lots of clouds surrounding the mountains of central Switzerland. Bad weather also hampered search efforts on Monday.
The Swiss Air Force lost no less than three two seat F-18D jets before, against no single seaters until now. A total of 25 single seat and five double seat jets remain in the fleet, according to statements made after the jet went missing on Monday.