The U.S. State Department has notified the U.S. Congress that it has approved the possible sale of some 34 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Belgium. If the sale goes through, the deal would be worth some $6.53 billion.
“The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Belgium of thirty-four (34) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Conventional Take Off and Landing aircraft for an estimated cost of $6.53 billion,” the State Department said in a statement released on Jan. 19. “The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale today.”
The arms package would include not only the 34 jets, but also thirty-eight Pratt & Whitney F-135 engines—34 installed and four spares. The potential sale would also include various electronic warfare systems; command, control, communications, computer and intelligence/communications, navigational, and identification (C4I/CNI) hardware; Autonomic Logistics Global Support System (ALGS); Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS); Full Mission Trainer; Weapons Employment Capability, and other Subsystems, Features, and Capabilities; F-35 unique infrared flares; Reprogramming center; F-35 Performance Based Logistics; software development/integration and other ancillary equipment and services.
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The F-35 sale is not a done deal however. The stealthy jet is in a head-to-head competition with rival fighters to win the Belgian contract. The pan-European Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale are also in the running to replace Belgium’s 59 Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons.
There were other contenders, however, over time the field has narrowed as would-be contractors have dropped out. Last year in April, Boeing withdrew its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet from the competition. The company asserted that the Belgian tender was not “a truly level playing field.” Later in July, the Belgium competition narrowed down further in July, when Saab withdrew its JAS-39E/F Gripen E. Saab pulled out because Belgium would require a level of operational support that Sweden simply cannot provide.
Lockheed Martin and the remaining contractors, however, remain unfazed. But for the European contenders such as Eurofighter, the contest is increasingly a struggle for survival as orders for their aircraft slowly dry up. Indeed, Belgium rejected an unsolicited French offer of a strategic partnership in October based around the Rafale that would have circumvented a competition.
Meanwhile, the F-35 looks like it will be set to dominate the international fighter market with the full backing of the United States government. But then, that’s no surprise. Analysts have long predicted that the F-35 would dominate the market once it became operational.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest . You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.