In February 2018, US aerospace company Lockheed Martin and the European consortium that manufactures the Eurofighter Typhoon became the only participants in a competition to re-equip the Belgian Air Force with new-generation fighter bombers.
US-made F-35 fighter jets purchased by Belgium are not ready for combat, Vif magazine reported, citing a document obtained by the Centre for Defence Information at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), a Washington-based independent research group.
According to the report, an independent examination has established that the F-35 had technical flaws that may endanger the lives of the jet’s crew.
The fifth generation stealth fighter jet “continues to dramatically underperform in crucial areas including availability and reliability, cyber-vulnerability testing, and life-expectancy testing”, the NGO noted.
Among other shortcomings, the group cited low shooting accuracy, lack of protection against cyber attacks, and fragile design. POGO said it had delivered its findings to the US Department of Defence.
On 25 October 2018, the government of Belgium’s then-Prime Minister Charles Michel announced it had chosen Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jets over the Eurofighter Typhoon to replace its ageing F-16s in a 4 billion euro deal. The warplanes are expected to be delivered in 2025.
A month before Brussels made its final decision, US Ambassador to Belgium Ronald Gidwitz urged the Belgian government to make up its mind on the tender for acquiring 34 jets by mid-October. The deadline for the decision was reportedly re-scheduled for 29 October.
At the time, Gidwitz insisted that extending the offer under the same conditions isn’t an option, because it would be unfair to other countries that had already ordered F-35s “because they want clarity regarding delivery deadlines”.
Belgium is not the only European nation to have been pressured into purchasing the US-built warplanes: in December 2018, Dutch Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld told the ANP news agency that the Netherlands would boost its defence spending in the coming year to acquire more F-35s.
The country had already purchased 37 F-35A stealth fighters, enough for two squadrons, but NATO insisted on a third, ANP reported.