The decision on the replacement of Belgian F-16s is imminent

The Belgian Minister of Defense, Steven Vandeput, will soon transmit the report concerning the replacement of the F-16s to the Belgian government, after a very controversial procedure for several years. From the launch of the call for tenders, the odds seemed stacked in favor of the Lockheed F-35, which had the full support of the minister and the General Staff of the Belgian Air Force. 

This led to the withdrawal of 2 of the 5 competitors, Boeing which presented the F-18 E/F Super Hornet, and Saab with the Gripen, the two manufacturers declaring that the competition was only a charade aimed at providing a legal framework. to the choice of the F-35.

France, for its part, opted for a strategic partnership proposal with Belgium, encompassing military and industrial aspects, with full compensation for the costs of purchasing and operating the rafales proposed, the possibility of embarking on the PAN Charles de Gaulle and integration into the FCAS project. This proposal aroused real hostility from the Belgian Ministry of Defense, which sought for several months to contest its legality, finally falling back on an argument of a “non-respectful approach” to Belgian institutions.

If you Rafale remains in the running, its chances are however slim against the F-35, which benefited from the support of its Dutch neighbor. Last actor, the Typhoon, presented by Great Britain, remained discreet throughout the procedure. But the uncertainties regarding the future of the device, of which less than 100 units remain to be produced, do not speak in its favor. In addition, the aircraft, while it is undoubtedly an excellent air superiority fighter, is singularly lacking in versatility.

Ultimately, the choice of Belgium will determine, in part, the future of the European Defense initiative. The choice of the F-35 will send a very negative signal towards it, while the choice of the Rafale would give a very significant boost to the project. The choice of Typhoon, improbable, would be a sort of “failure”, or non-decision, as would be the choice to extend the F-16s for around ten years.

This call for tenders is also a political test for Belgium, between Walloons and Flemish, pro-Atlanticists and pro-Europeans, the non-disclosure of a report concerning the possible extension of the F-35 having largely discredited the Minister of Defense. Defense, and led to the resignation of several senior officials of the Belgian Air Force.

While the ministry's report will most likely be in favor of the F-35, the final decision rests with the government itself. Regardless, the conclusion is coming soon.

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