PARIS --- In order to operate its 34 future F-35A combat aircraft, the Belgian Air Force has undertaken major construction work at the two air bases where the new fighters will be based, at Kleine-Brogel and Florennes. On June 28, the Belgian forces issued a public tender for "the design, construction and maintenance of an infrastructure complex in support of the F-35," the Flemish-language daily De Morgen reported July 08.
"Both bases were built in the 1960s and were in any case in need of a thorough renovation," military sources said: "There was little point in trying to patch up the existing buildings before the arrival of the F-35.”
In Kleine-Brogel and Florennes there will be two new 'F-35 compounds,' consisting of buildings for mission preparation and debriefings, space for four large simulators, a new maintenance hangar with room for six aircraft, as well as another sixteen covered and lockable shelters and 'Quick Reaction Alert' zone with accommodation for the pilots and ground crews who have to be on standby 24 hours a day.
The total cost of the two compounds is estimated at 275 million euros, and is separate from the purchase of the F-35 aircraft from the United States. Funding has already been provided for in the army's multi-year budget. Work at Florennes is scheduled to start in the spring of 2022, and in a year later at Kleine-Brogel.
Because it is a military project, not every contractor can compete for the work. The tender states that a security clearance to 'national secret' level is required. Anyone wishing to obtain such an authorisation must have their company inspected by the Belgian security services. The latter then check, among other things, whether information is processed in a confidential manner. The construction plans of an airbase must not fall into the wrong hands, De Morgen said.
Leaving nothing to chance, interested contractors must also pass a screening by the US State Department because "In order to be able to arrange the exchange of data with Lockheed Martin, the American International Traffic in Arms Regulations require this," the tender states.
The American requirements are not slim. A 174-page document has been added to the tender, in which the National Counterintelligence and Security Center explains the security requirements for the future F-35 compounds at Kleine-Brogel and Florennes, from start to finish. This ranges from the way in which the walls of the buildings are best constructed to the placement of the ventilation system and the telephone lines. A military source said: "Construction companies specializing in the security sector will be able to enjoy themselves."
The F-35 is expected to remain in service for some thirty years at a total cost estimated at about 12.5 billion euros. An enormous sum, which includes pilots' and technicians' personnel costs, day-to-day maintenance and fuel costs.
An important difference is that the maintenance of the F-35 per flight hour is 20 percent more expensive than the F-16. This extra cost is compensated by the fact that the Air Force will fly much less with the F-35, as most of the training will soon take place in the new simulators.
According to the latest figures provided by the US Air Force, an F-35 flight hour currently costs $44,000, and the target is to reduce this to $34,000 by 2023, when Belgium is due to receive its first F-35s.
Currently, a flight hour in an F-16C/D costs $25,500, according to the US Air Force.