The French strategic partnership offer for the replacement of F-16 fighter-bombers with Rafale aircraft has never been studied in detail by Belgium, whereas the complete file has never been received by Belgian firms, in outside the Defense, L'Echo reported this Thursday (June 13, 2018).
The authorities are not even in possession of the full offer.
The French proposal has so far not been examined in detail by Belgium, whose authorities are not even in possession of the complete offer, the business daily told a source familiar with the matter.
The complete document, which is over 3,000 pages long, has never been formally filed in Belgium. With the exception of the Defense ministry, no Belgian cabinet, not even at the level of the Prime Minister or of the Foreign Affairs ministry, has been authorized to receive the bulky file or to discuss it with representatives of France.
Defense is required to work in the sole context of the tender
The Defense organization says it is required to work exclusively within the framework of the Request for Government Proposals, absent a political decision by the government putting this procedure in question. But France did not respect this procedure by proposing a "strategic partnership" by letter addressed to Belgian Minister of Defense Steven Vandeput.
Potential participation in the Future Air Combat System program
However, the French offer contains some interesting elements, such Belgium’s possible participation in the French-German Future Air Combat System (Système de Combat Aérien Future, SCAF) program or, according to L'Echo’s report, a very short waiting period (less than three years) for the delivery of the 34 aircraft to begin, regardless of when the contract was signed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: It is hardly a secret that the Dutch-speaking Flemings who hold the top positions in Belgium’s defense ministry and its armed forces are hostile to France’s offer, and are generally understood to favor the Lockheed F-35 while virtually ignoring the third candidate, inexplicably carried by the British government and BAE Systems, the Eurofighter Typhoon.
This bias was clearly demonstrated by Belgian Defense Minister Steven Vandeput, when he dismissed the French offer as “too good to be true,” while shrugging off the fact that the cost of the F-35, as notified to Congress by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency ($6.53 billion, today worth €5.7 billion), is about 55% more than the €3.7 billion funds that Belgium has earmarked for the acquisition.
This lack of concern about the F-35’s acquisition costs -- as well as its operating costs, that are so high that the US Air Force says it cannot afford them – is all the more surprising that Vandeput is a chartered accountant by trade.
(Disclaimer—Steven Vandeput has accused this writer of lying about his handling of the F-16 replacement program in a post on his Twitter account. He did not say what these alleged “lies” are, and has not responded to several requests for an explanation.)
Finally, Vandeput has maintained that he could not countenance France’s offer because it was not made within the very strict framework of the Request for Government Proposal (RfGP) he launched on 17 March 2017.
Contrary to what he claims, the F-16 replacement procedure does not obligate Belgium to complete the competition, nor does it impose any other obligation about the process.
This is clearly stated by the RfGP itself, which on p. 13 states 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.”
The document -- again contradicting Vandeput -- adds that Belgium would have no legal liability if it did not complete the procedure: “No legal liability against the ACCaP office and by extension Belgian Defence and the Belgian Government, for payment of any sorts, shall arise as a result of activities related to responding to this RfGP.”
There are thus no legal obstacles or constraints to limit Vandeput’s freedom of action, and all decisions, or lack thereof, are entirely his choice and his responsibility.)