The Belgian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has issued a request for information (RFI) to five foreign government agencies regarding various aircraft that could replace the national air force’s ageing F-16 Fighting Falcon fleet.
Several defence ministry officials were quoted by Belga News Agency as saying that the RFI does not commit to a future purchase nor to the selection of a specific aircraft, but "aims to gather information" beyond the open-source data used for initial evaluation.
One of the sources said that the RFI was issued following approval from the outgoing defence minister Pieter De Crem, and does not mention the number of aircraft to be acquired.
Issued to the Joint Program Office (JPO), the Navy Integrated Program Office (NIPO), the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) of the French Ministry of Defence, the Swedish Defence and Security Export Agency (FXM) and the UK Ministry of Defence, the RFI marks the first step in a process that will lead to the acquisition of a new fighter before the retirement of the F-16s starts in 2023.
While JPO is in charge of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II programme, the NIPO, DGA, FXM and UK MoD look after Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Saab JAS-39 Gripen, and Eurofighter Typhoon multi-role combat aircraft, respectively.
The MoD prefers a government-to-government agreement, rather than a commercial purchase from a contractor, according to the officials.
For the first time, De Crem had voiced his opinion in December 2013 to acquire around 40 new fighters during the incoming legislature, to ensure Belgium remains a reliable partner within Nato and the European Union (EU), according to the news agency.
The acquisition is expected to cost €4bn, and the selection is likely to take place in 2015 or early 2016, to facilitate the aircraft’s entry into service between 2023 and 2025, when the F-16s will retire, subject to approval from the next federal government.
The Belgian Air Force currently has 54 F-16s in its inventory and all of them have completed the mid-life update (MLU).
Image: Belgian Air Force currently operates 54 F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft. Photo: courtesy of konflikty.pl.