BRUSSELS --- Belgium has received proposals from Britain and the United States to replace its ageing fleet of fighter jets, while a French proposal that was not part of the tender process will be looked at separately, Belgium’s defence minister said.
Belgium invited government-led proposals in March for the replacement of its fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16 planes with 34 new fighters, in a deal that could be worth more than 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion).
Last month, France proposed a wide-ranging military deal with Belgium instead of responding to the tender. The deal goes beyond the terms of the tender whilst including the sale of Rafale fighter jets.
While the French offer would be discussed by the government, it could open Belgium to criticism that it was not treating candidates equally, Vandeput said.
“To be very clear, the French offer is not part of the contest,” minister Steven Vandeput told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday. (end of excerpt)
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(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Belgian Cabinet’s “kern” security committee is meeting this morning in Brussels and will discuss the status of the F-16 replacement program, after several parties challenged Defense Minister Steven Vandeput’s offhand dismissal of France’s offer of a Rafale partnership.
They also claim Vandeput misspoke in telling MPs that the government could be sued if it did not complete the procedure as launched earlier this year.
However, the outcome of competition is not binding on the government, as Belgian media have reported.
The defense ministry’s own 247-page document setting out the competition’s rules specifies (p. 13) that “The issuance of this RfGP is not to be construed in any way as a commitment by the Belgian government to conclude an agreement or a contract.”
Thus, contrary to what Vandeput told MPs, Belgium is free to buy whichever fighter it prefers, irrespective of the results of the competition.
This explains France’s unorthodox tactics.
While Boeing pulled out because it felt the competition was slewed to favor the Lockheed F-35, France decided to submit a separate offer of a large, strategic partnership giving Belgium a share of the Rafale’s future development program as well as a share of the next-generation French-German combat aircraft.
Given that the F-35 program cannot, because of its internal rules, offer offsets, France is gambling that the return on investment it can offer on the Rafale will largely exceed those offered by competing suppliers, and tip the balance in its favor.)