Belgium has become the latest nation to join the global F-35 program with an announcement over the weekend which will see the current inventory of F-16s replaced by the fifth-generation aircraft.
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The Belgian government's selection of the F-35 makes it the thirteenth nation to join the global F-35 project and builds on the strong relationship Lockheed Martin and Belgium have developed through the operation of the F-16 and C-130 platforms.
Belgium’s key allies, the US, UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Italy, are all F-35 program participants. For this reason, the aircraft serves as the ultimate solution for interoperability with NATO and other allied assets. From logistics and capability to the capacity to conduct coalition activities and peacekeeping operations, this advanced fifth-generation aircraft positions Belgium favourably for current and future missions.
Belgian Defence Minister, Steven Vandeput said, "We have landed! This government is investing heavily in defense. With the purchase of F-35A fighter planes we ensure your safety and that of our military."
The Belgian Air Force began flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon and C-130 Hercules in the 1970s. More than 40 years later, this strong partnership lives on with the announcement of the multi-billion Euro Lightning II deal.
Since then, Belgian industry has played a significant role in the manufacturing and sustainment of Lockheed Martin products. Much like the F-16 has for more than four decades, the F-35 program is poised to generate high-quality, long-term jobs for Belgium long into the future.
The Belgian Air Component will replace it's ageing 44 F-16's with 34 F-35A Lightning II aircraft, following a cheaper than predicted offer from Lockheed Martin, outbidding Airbus and their offering of the Eurofighter Typhoon.
The total price of the deal, which includes the jets, pilot training, specialised hangars and sustainment until 2030 was worth 4 billion Euros, 600 million under the initial budget of 4.6 billion Euros.
This cost reduction will see the projected 15 billion Euro lifetime cost of the aircraft, drop to 12.4 billion Euros, building on announcements made by the Pentagon Joint Project Office and Lockheed Martin earlier in the year regarding drop in production costs translating to increased block buys and unit price reductions.
"One of the most important investments in the strategic vision is the replacement of air combat capability. That is not surprising if you know that we want to be a reliable and united partner of the EU, UN and NATO," Vandeput explained.
Lightning II is a single-seat, fith-generation, single-engine fighter aircraft designed for many missions with advanced, integrated sensors built into every aircraft. Missions that were traditionally performed by small numbers of specialised aircraft, such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and electronic attack missions can now be executed by a squadron of F-35s, bringing new capabilities to many allied forces.
A fifth generation fighter has advanced stealth, exceptional agility and maneuverability, sensor and information fusion, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment.