07:31 GMT25 November 2020
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    On Thursday, Belgium announced plans to purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth jets to replace its fleet of F-16s in a 4 billion euro ($4.55 billion) deal.

    European aerospace manufacturers Airbus and Dassault Aviation have expressed regret over Belgium's decision to choose Lockheed Martin F-35A over the Typhoon, manufactured by the Eurofighter joint-venture made up of Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo, as well as Dassault’s Rafale.

    READ MORE: Belgium's Choice of US F-35 Over Eurofighter Leaves Military Experts Split

    In a public statement, Airbus Defense and Space said it accepted the move, and  was not surprised by the decision given the strong links between Brussels and Washington on defense industrial matters.

    “However, Airbus Defense and Space remains firmly convinced that the offer submitted by Team Eurofighter, consisting of the industrial partners of United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain, would have represented a superior choice for the country both in terms of operational capability and industrial opportunities. The Eurofighter solution would have resulted in more than €19 billion ($21.66 billion) direct contribution to the Belgian economy,” the statement read.

    The manufacturer also described Brussels' choice as a missed opportunity to participate in the planned development of a European-made fifth-generation fighter and strengthen European industrial cooperation.

    “This partnership could have also laid the path for Belgium to join the Franco-German Future Combat Air System program, which Airbus is currently defining with its strong industrial partner Dassault Aviation,” the firm says.

    READ MORE: Belgium's Purchase of US F-35 Jets 'Against European Interests' — Macron

    Dassault Aviation's statement echoed a similar frustration:

    “Dassault Aviation is not surprised by the Belgian government's decision – some actors’ preference for the F-35 had long been clear enough. The choice of the F-35 is a bad signal for the construction of a European defense. Once again, we can see an American preference prevailing in Europe,” the French manufacturer stated.

    The aerospace companies' comments came shortly after French President Emmanuel Macron slammed Belgium's decision, saying that "strategically it goes against European interests."

    "The decision was linked to a Belgian procedure and the country's political constraints, but strategically it goes against European interests. Europe won't be strong unless it is truly sovereign and knows how to protect itself," he said, citing a need to develop "a genuine European defense capacity I will do everything possible to promote European offers in future contracts," Macron told reporters in Bratislava, Slovakia.

    Earlier this week, Belgium confirmed plans to purchase 34 F-35 aircraft for $4.33 billion (€3.8 billion), with deliveries expected to begin in 2023. Brussels justified the decision by saying that the US offer “was the best from the price and operational standpoint.”

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