France's offer to associate Belgium with the development of the future version of the Rafale is "out of proportion" with what the competitors of the French fighter plane propose for the vast public procurement to replace the Belgian F-16 fighters, the French Ministry of the Armed Forces said Tuesday.
Eight months after Paris offered a "deepened cooperation" between the two countries’ air forces, which was welcomed without enthusiasm in Brussels, a delegation from French Minister Florence Parly was received Tuesday in the Belgian capital by advisers to her counterpart, Steven Vandeput.
This is an opportunity, according to the French, to "open talks" on the proposal to train Belgian pilots to operate from the French aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle, rather than from shared air bases, or that of "widely" opening French airspace for exercises.
France has also offered that Belgium become "a European partner to discuss future developments of the Rafale", and thus to assume in this program "a weight uncommon with (what is offered by) competitors", indicated Ms. Parly's advisers, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.
Incorporating the Belgians into the development of the next Rafale F4 version, expected by 2024, "will allow the convergence towards the future SCAF (Future Combat Air System), the centerpiece of the Franco-German strategy to ensure European sovereignty in defense matters, they added.
In March 2017, Belgium launched a competition for the purchase of 34 new fighter aircraft to replace its aging fleet of some fifty F-16s, valued at about 3.6 billion euros.
The three candidates to replace the F-16 are the U.S.-made Lockheed Martin F-35, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the French Dassault Rafale.
But Steven Vandeput, Belgian minister from the N-VA (Flemish nationalists), believes that only the first two have made - in February, via the US and British governments - a bid according to the ground rules, as he considers that France’s proposal of a wider partnership is outside the established framework.
On Tuesday, Vandeput’s cabinet received Ms. Parly’s three advisers "at the request of [Belgian] Prime Minister" Charles Michel, Mr. Vandeput’s spokeswoman Laurence Mortier told AFP.
"We are interested in the program of the fighter of the future," she said, but "we heard nothing new compared to the letter received (from Florence Parly) on September 6. There is nothing more concrete".
"Now we will give a complete file to the Belgian government," Mortier continued, refusing to comment on any timetable for the final choice between competitors.