Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said that buying F-35 Lightning II fifth generation fighters from the US for the kingdom’s Air Force was a more commercially viable option, as France had not yet put a definitive price tag on its Rafale F3R fighter.
“We asked the French to provide explanations concerning their proposal and price, but this was not done,” Michel said in an interview with the broadcasting company RTBF.
He described Brussels’ choice as completely transparent and economically justified, and not a concession to US President Donald Trump.
In February, the F-35’s maker, Lockheed Martin, and British BAE Systems (Eurofighter Typhoon fighter), were the only bidders in a 3.6 billion euro ($4.1 billion) tender for 34 fighter jects to replace Belgium’s ageing fleet of F-16s.
In September 2017, the US aircraft-manufacturing giant Boeing (the maker of the Super Hornet F/A-18 fighter-bomber) and the Swedish Saab (JAS-39 E Gripen) pulled out of the competition along with France, which had offered Brussels its own Rafale F3R fighter in exchange for "an in-depth and structural partnership" together with France and Germany, to develop a new generation of combat aircraft by 2040 as part of a European defense initiative.
Each nuclear-capable F-35, including onboard weapons and pilot training, will cost the country 76.3 million euros ($86 million), with the total cost amounting to almost 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) less than the 3.6 billion ($4 billion) as originally planned.
According to local media, in the next 40 years Belgium plans to allocate a total of 15 billion euros ($17 billion) for the purchase and maintenance of new fighter-bombers.
The deputy mayor of Belgium’s Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve commune, Cedric du Monceau, said that the government’s decision to buy the F-35s would hurt the economy of Belgium and the European Union as a whole.
He added, however, that the decision demonstrates "a willingness to consolidate our choice in support of a single currency and industrial policy favorable to employment and innovation."
Belgium’s first F-35 II Lightning will be delivered in 2023, and all of the country’s F-16 fighter jets will be decommissioned by 2028. The contract for the delivery of F-35s is expected to be signed early next year.