Belgium will provide 30 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters to Ukraine, joining three other NATO members with similar pledges.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced the transfer on 28 May at a bilateral meeting in Brussels. The aircraft will be delivered by 2028 as part of a 10-year security assistance deal between the two countries valued at more than $1 billion.

“Belgium has provided military support to Ukraine since the very beginning of this conflict and with this agreement we are making it clear that we will continue to do so,” De Croo says.

The first of the jets will be turned over by the end of this year, according to a statement from Zelensky posted to social media site X. 

“The document includes at least €977 million ($1.06 billion) in Belgian military aid to Ukraine this year, as well as Belgium’s commitment to providing our country with support over the course of the agreement’s 10-year term,” Zelensky says.

F-16 Belgian air force

Source: VanderWolf Images/Shutterstock

Belgium has pledged 30 surplus F-16As to Ukraine for combat use, joining fellow NATO members Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway

While Belgium had already publicly committed to furnishing Ukraine with F-16s for some time, Brussels has not previously suggested the timeline or quantity of fighters it was considering.

Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway have also pledged a portion of their respective F-16 fleets to Kyiv. Those countries, along with the USA, are currently training Ukrainian aviators and mechanics to operate the single-engined jet, which will be Ukraine’s first Western-built fighter.

Belgian F-35A debut

Source: Lockheed Martin

Belgium’s first Lockheed Martin F-35A – aircraft FL-003 – conducted evaluation flights in Fort Worth, Texas during its mid-May debut

Belgian foreign minister Hadja Lahbib confirms that Brussels plans to deliver the first F-16 bound for Ukraine by the end of 2024, along with munitions from Belgium’s internal stocks to equip the fighters. She spoke to Belgian broadcaster RTL on 28 May.

However, the text of the new Belgium-Ukraine security agreement leaves open the possibility for changes to that schedule.

“Belgium will do everything possible… to accelerate the first delivery, if possible before the end of 2024, without endangering its security and the operationality [sic] of its air capacity,” the document states.

The largest factor in determining the F-16 handover schedule appears to be the delivery of new Lockheed F-35As, which will replace the Belgian Air Component’s 51 F-16s.

Brussels has committed to acquiring 34 of the fifth-generation stealth fighters from Lockheed.

However, delivery of those aircraft are currently delayed, as Lockheed struggles with challenges certificating the latest technical configuration for the F-35, which includes an upgraded computer processor and new software. As a result, the Pentagon stopped accepting new F-35s in mid-2023 – including jets destined for overseas operators.

However, Lockheed now says it is nearing a solution to the impasse, with plans to deploy a scaled back version of the new Technical Refresh 3 (TR-3) package that will operate on existing software. The company expects this will enable a resumption of F-35 deliveries in the third quarter of this year, which begins in July.

Lockheed says the delivery date for Belgium’s jets will be based on resolving the TR-3 issues. The military airframer says it currently has eight F-35s for Belgium currently under production.

The first of those was seen conducting evaluation flights at the Fort Worth, Texas assembly site in mid-May – complete with full-colour Belgian flag and red-yellow-and-blue insignia of the Belgian Air Component.