PARIS --- France’s Armed Forces Minister on Friday called on Belgium to do the right thing when choosing its next fighter, and to pick the competitor that would best support the emerging European defense compact as well as Belgium’s own defense capabilities.
During a June 8 interview with VRT Flemish radio-television, Florence Parly also took a swipe at the two aircraft that are competing for an order to which Belgium has allocated 3.7 billion euros: the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Lockheed Martin F-35. France, which did not file a Best And Final Offer (BAFO) because it considered that Belgium had already decided to pick the F-35, instead offered a “strategic partnership” around the Dassault Aviation Rafale which includes sharing in the development of the Rafale’s mid-life upgrade and of the next-generation French-German combat aircraft that will replace it.
It is widely expected that the Belgian government wants to announce its decision on the new fighter at the NATO summit that will open in Brussels on July 11, so Parly’s statement is probably the last public push by France to support its proposal.
If Belgium were to opt for the F-35 to replace its current F-16s, Parly told VRT NWS "it would be a terrible choice…..The American offer is an expensive one, and comes at a very particular time, when the United States has launched a trade war against Europe,” she said.
For Belgium, “a founding nation of the European Union, it would be a terrible choice,” because it wouldn’t support the Europe defense compact, she said.
Parly dismissed the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by a four-nation consortium but represented by British company BAE Systems in the Belgian competition, in a few words.
"The British plane has not yet demonstrated its performance, and we think that performance is rather mediocre," the French minister said.
"With Brexit in the background, and at a time when “Defense Europe” is finally emerging, we believe that Belgium’s choice should favor Europe, and Rafale is the European choice.”
A spokesman for the Eurofighter proposal to Belgium declined to respond directly to Parly’s comments on Eurofighter, but said in a June 11 e-mail that “Eurofighter is a combat-proven, multi-role platform with almost 500 aircraft across Europe, making it the backbone of European air power. It is 100% designed, manufactured and assembled across Europe, sustaining a high technology European defence & aerospace industrial base.”
“We are pleased to be part of this rigorous, open and transparent process and await the decision of the Belgian Government.”
Parly noted that while "France will respect the decision of the Belgian government whatever happens,” France believes that Rafale is the only serious option for Belgium, and that this choice would also allow Belgium to “embark on the adventure to develop” Europe’s future fighter aircraft.
The Belgian air force, Parly added, could also benefit from France’s aircraft carrier in the context of international operations. "The choice of the Rafale opens the door to a wide and deep cooperation not only with France, but also with France’s partners and, in the maritime dimension, the possibility of working with the Americans" for combined naval operations, such as flying Belgian Rafales off the deck of FS Charles de Gaulle, France’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.