Lockheed Martin, a renowned leader in aerospace and defense technology, proudly announces a significant milestone in the F-35 program for Belgium. On November 10, the company completed the final assembly of the Belgian Air Component’s first F-35A Lightning II multirole combat aircraft, designated AY-01. This achievement signifies Belgium’s entry into the global network of F-35 operators and enhances the country’s military aviation capabilities. AY-01 is currently undergoing paint application, ground testing, and is scheduled for a technical flight. Lockheed Martin is adhering to its schedule, with an official presentation of the completed aircraft planned for the end of this year. The initial stationing of these state-of-the-art aircraft will be in the United States, and they are set to be relocated to the Florennes Air Base in Belgium by 2025. Belgium also has plans to operate the F-35A from a second base, Kleine-Brogel, expected to be operational by 2027.
Belgium’s decision to acquire the F-35A Lightning II stemmed from a rigorous evaluation process. In January 2018, the United States Department of State approved the potential Foreign Military Sale of 34 F-35As to Belgium, with an estimated cost of US$6.53 billion. Later that year, on October 25, Belgium officially selected the F-35A over the Eurofighter Typhoon to replace its aging fleet of around 54 F-16s. Government officials cited the superior offer from the United States as the primary factor in their choice, highlighting the cost-effectiveness of the decision. The total purchasing price for the aircraft and its support until 2030 came in at €4 billion, significantly under the initially budgeted €4.6 billion. Belgium’s selection of the F-35A Lightning II in 2018 was influenced by the need for cooperation with allies, including the Netherlands, to jointly secure the airspace over the Benelux countries. Currently, the Belgian Air Force operates Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcons, which have played a vital role in both local and allied missions.
The introduction of the F-35 ensures that Belgium continues to operate with the latest aircraft and technology to protect its borders and seamlessly collaborate with its allies in support of NATO missions. The strong partnership between Belgium and Lockheed Martin, which began with the F-16 in the 1970s, is set to continue with the F-35 program. This program not only provides advanced military capabilities but also generates high-quality, long-term jobs for Belgians, securing the nation’s economic future. Lockheed Martin’s commitment to Belgium extends beyond the aircraft themselves. Through the Essential Security Interest (ESI) program, Lockheed Martin will offer industrial opportunities to multiple Belgian companies in all three geographic regions. These projects will introduce cutting-edge manufacturing techniques, expand the skills and knowledge of Belgian industry, and provide high-tech job opportunities for Belgians for decades to come. Companies such as ASCO, Feronyl, ILIAS Solutions, SABCA, Sonaca, and AMI Metals have already secured projects through the ESI program, contributing to Belgium’s industrial growth.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft, is designed to perform air superiority, strike, electronic warfare, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. Lockheed Martin, along with principal partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, leads the F-35 program. The F-35 family includes three main variants: the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A, the short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) F-35B, and the carrier-based (CV/CATOBAR) F-35C. With Lockheed Martin having delivered nearly 1,000 F-35 Lightning IIs in various versions, accumulating around 750,000 flight hours, Belgium’s inclusion in the F-35 program not only signifies a major update for the country’s military aviation but also reinforces the growing global network of F-35 users. This cutting-edge technology will undoubtedly enhance Belgium’s defense capabilities and strengthen its cooperative ties with NATO allies, ensuring a safer and more secure future for the nation and its partners.