Belgian Defence Minister Steven Vandeput has announced plans to replace its existing fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, in a bid to improve its air combat capability.

The 54 F-16s currently in service with Belgium will be replaced by 34 new multi-role combat aircraft.

Vandeput said: "The government has made the courageous decision to renew our air combat capability and to replace the F-16s fleet, and with this capability we are making an important contribution to Nato's collective defence.

"For full transparency, the Request for Government Proposal will be published in full."

"Choosing to maintain this capability means remaining a reliable partner of the alliance."

An intergovernmental agreement for the procurement of new aircraft is expected to be signed by the defence ministry.

The agreement will also support the operation of this new capability until the end of 2030.

Belgium is planning to replace its current F-16s as the fleet is expected to reach its end of life during the period between 2023 and 2028.

The plans for the replacement programme were initiated by the defence department in 2012.

In June 2014, a survey was initiated by sending a document called the Preparation Survey to five government agencies, including the Joint Program Office (JPO), the US Navy Program Manager Air 265, the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) of the French Ministry of Defence, the Swedish Defense Material Administration (FMV) and the UK Ministry of Defence.

The next phase of the replacement programme will begin with the issuance of the Request for Government Proposal.

Upon receiving and evaluating the proposals, the defence department will make a reasoned recommendation to the government.

Vandeput added: ''For full transparency, the Request for Government Proposal will be published in full.

"It goes without saying that we cannot release it until all the government agencies that will compete for the contract have received the document."