The Belgian Government is expected to decide on whether to join the international Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme by the end of this month.

Although the Belgian air force's 90 Lockheed Martin F-16A/B fighters are not due to be replaced before 2010, an early decision is necessary if Belgian aerospace companies such as SABCA are to be take part in the programme.

Defence minister André Flahaut says he wants "a government decision before the end of the year". Joining the programme at the observer level will cost Belgium $10 million.

Discussions continue as to the number of F-16 replacements that will be procured. While the air force wants a one-for-one replacement, the Government is considering smaller numbers, perhaps as few as 36. A suggested BFr110 billion ($2.73 billion) budget has been criticised as too expensive.

If it decides to sign, Belgium will join the UK - the only full collaborative partner associate partners Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway, third-tier observers Canada and Italy, and Singapore, Israel and Turkey.

Next year, each country - apart from Denmark, which has already committed - will have to decide whether to continue into the next stage, engineering and manufacturing and development, ahead of selection in 2001. Teams led by Boeing and Lockheed Martin are preparing to fly JSF concept demonstrator aircraft next year.

Source: Flight International