The European consortium promoting Eurofighter in the ongoing bid to replace the Belgian air force’s F-16 aircraft say theirs is a truly ‘European’ solution. Anthony Gregory, Campaign Director for Belgium at BAE Systems, says that in addition to Eurofighter’s proven military effectiveness the bid team’s industrial offer to Belgium will create up to 8,000 new jobs as well as giving Belgian industry a seat at the top table of European defence and aerospace sector for decades to come.
Anthony Gregory, Campaign Director for Belgium at BAE Systems, said: “The Belgians want a highly capable multi-role platform to see them through to 2058, one that brings the lowest total cost of ownership and in addition they want an industrialisation package which meets their essential security interests.
“The latter is of huge interest to the political decision makers in Belgium because it looks at wider context, things like job sustainment and creation, as well as the impact of the choice on the broader economy. Being a European product and consortium, we’ve put a proposition together that really looks to the future technology needs of the nation.
“It’s an offer that’s all about Europe first rather than America first. We recognise that it’s a straightforward competition between ourselves and F-35 — a European versus US solution — and we believe our advantage lies in being the ‘European solution’."
“Eurofighter is designed, manufactured and assembled in Europe, with Belgian industry already an established part of the supply chain. We estimate across the Eurofighter consortium that we currently sustain around €600 million of revenue every year with Belgian companies and support about 10,000 jobs directly in Belgium. Our industrial proposals will initially help sustain this activity and, as they pay off, we estimate we can grow that value to between €1.3 and €1.5 billion per year. That’s a significant increase over the life of a 30-year programme. Independent analysis also suggests it would create between 6,000 and 8,000 new and highly skilled jobs.”
Gregory says one of the consortium’s key industrialisation proposals includes the establishment of two, innovation centres. They’re proposing one in Flanders and another in the Wallonia region. Each would have slightly different R&D agendas and focuses; one around advanced materials and the other looking at additive layer and manufacturing technologies. These activities are on the national agenda.
“We’ve been talking about the idea to the Belgian companies involved and asking what areas of technology they are interested in. Bridging this technical readiness level between academic research and commercially viable technologies is a big investment. The model is similar to the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centres in the UK. Belgium can see the benefits of this approach and our analysis indicates that it would bring significant benefits to their economy as we go through the life of the programme."
“Belgium’s existing aerospace base is already very capable, particularly the manufacturing of components and sub-assemblies. In fact, it’s among the most competitive and the most profitable in Europe. Hence the industrial activities we’re offering are linked to where the Belgian aerospace sector sees itself in the next 20 years or so.
“We’ve really focused on research and development around specific sectors of advanced material science. For example, how we use graphene, how we use glass metal composites and the development of future manufacturing technologies themselves, such as additive layer manufacture. Our offer looks to the digitisation of factories, in terms of reconfigurable factories, robotics, cobotics, all of these types of things.
Another key element of the industrial package being put forward by the Eurofighter consortium is around cyber security.
“We are proposing a government-to-government cooperation around cyber enabled by BAE Systems Applied Intelligence at Belgium (a Belgian entity set up to establish a national cyber defence capability for Belgium). This is an area which is firmly on the Prime Minister’s agenda and we think that’s also a discriminating part of our offer.”
When the Belgians put their Request For Government Proposals out in March last year, another key aspect they wanted out of the process was a strategic partnership.
Gregory says: “This element of our proposal is not just about the aircraft but it’s about training, the use of airspace, the use of facilities such as Electronic Warfare Ranges, it’s about working together on operations; using logistics chains and mobility chains. That’s why the UK MoD and the Royal Air Force have committed to a really deep and strategic partnership with the Belgian Air Force for the life of the programme.
“Obviously there’s a military effectiveness assessment and we’re absolutely competitive in that sphere — indeed ours is the most forward leaning capability offer ever proposed with the Eurofighter. But affordability, both at the initial acquisition and, most importantly, the total cost of ownership, which includes support, the weapons, the training, everything, is another key measurement. This is one of our major strengths where believe we have a significant advantage over F-35.
It’s a practical solution too. The two Belgian air bases in Florennes and Kleine Brogel are closer to Coningsby than Coningsby is to Lossiemouth (the RAF’s second operating base in northern Scotland).