The Belgian Ministry of Defence recently sent a Request for Information (RFI) to five foreign government agencies, two American and three European, regarding the five combat aircraft that are the most likely candidates to replace the Belgian air force’s elderly F-16 fighters, several concordant sources said Wednesday.
The RFI, which does not commit to a future purchase nor to the selection of a specific aircraft, "aims to gather information" beyond the open-source data used for initial evaluation, several defense ministry sources said. "It is not a request for proposals," a defense ministry spokesman told Belga.
Issued June 3, two weeks after Belgium's general elections, the RFI is nonetheless the first step in a - long - process that should ultimately lead to the acquisition of a new fighter before the F-16s begin to be retired in 2023, as long as the next Federal government agrees to their replacement.
The RFI was issued by the defense general staff and was approved by the staff of he outgoing minister, Pieter De Crem, according to one source.
The five state agencies to which the RFI was sent are:
-- Joint Program Office (JPO) in charge of the F-35 Lightning II program built by Lockheed Martin;
-- the Navy Integrated Program Office (NIPO) for the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet;
-- the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) of the French Ministry of Defence for the Dassault Rafale;
-- the Swedish Defence and Security Export Agency (FXM) for the Saab JAS-39 Saab; and
-- the UK Ministry of Defence for the Eurofighter consortium's eponymous fighter, a spokesman for the Defense ministry told the Belga agency.
The ministry prefers a government-to-government agreement, rather than a commercial purchase from a contractor, several officials said.
For the time being, Belgium is seeking information on the capabilities of the various aircraft, and the RFI does not mention any number of aircraft.
In December, De Crem had for the first time come out clearly in favor of buying about 40 new fighters during the incoming legislature, which are necessary for Belgium to remain a reliable partner within NATO and the European Union.
Buying 40 fighters would cost about 4 billion euros. Ideally, the selection of a new fighter should be decided in 2015 or early 2016, so it can enter service between 2023 and 2025, when the F-16s will have to be retired.
Belgium originally ordered 150 F-16s, which first entered service in 1979. The current fleet, after accidents and disposals, comprises 54 aircraft, all of them having gone through the Mid-Life Update. (ends)
- June 5 p.m.: uploaded expanded story