Belgium may have chosen F-35s, another blow to European defense
Several Belgian media report on October 22, 2018, that the choice of the Lockheed Martin F-35 to replace the aging fleet of F-16s of the Belgian Air Component (the air branch of the single-structure Belgian Armed Forces) has already been made a week earlier by the government. However, the authorities will now have to justify their choice over the European offers.
The procurement process was initiated in March 2017 by the Federal government. The contract was estimated at around €3.6 billion. Belgium received two offers: one from Lockheed Martin with its F-35 and one from the consortium Eurofighter with the Typhoon.
While Dassault did not openly respond to the call for tenders, it offered for Belgium to collaborate on the development of the F4 standard of its Rafale, and a participation in the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program that was officialized by Germany and France during the ILA Berlin Air Show, on April 2018.
But according to several Belgian outlets including Le Soir, the choice has already been made during two meetings of the government on October 4 and October 17, 2018, and it is now preparing the official announcement to justify the choice of the American F-35 over the offer from its European allies (Eurofighter regroups companies from the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain).
The first argument could be the role of Belgium within NATO. According to its Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, the country must have a fighter with nuclear capability. “Within the Alliance, Belgium has accepted, five decades ago, that its fighter jets have both conventional and nuclear capabilities,” said Reynders in a written answer to a Belgian MP. “Taking into account a joint analysis of the global threat, NATO asks us to continue to maintain our fighter jets available for possible missions of this nature. We intend to fulfill all our obligations in this context”. If that argument rules out the Eurofighter Typhoon, it does not exclude however Dassault Rafale, which also has the capacity to carry out nuclear strikes.
Another point which could explain the choice is the prospect an extended cooperation with its neighboring country, the Netherlands, which has already chosen the F-35 as its future fighter, as well as Denmark and Norway. In 1975, those four countries had already chosen the F-16 (produced by General Dynamics at the time), ending the collaboration between Belgium and Dassault. The same scenario could be playing today, in yet another blow to the project of an independent European defense.