Belgium has selected the Lockheed Martin F-35A to fill a 34-aircraft requirement to replace its fleet of F-16s.

Belgian defence minister Steven Vandeput announced the decision on 25 October at a media briefing, making Belgium the 13th partner in the programme.

Vandeput says the acquisition is around €500 million ($560 million) less than the €4 billion budgeted for. Deliveries are due to begin in 2023.

In January, the US State Department approved the possible sale of 34 F-35s to Belgium, valuing it at $6.53 billion.

“Alongside the economic and industrial benefits, the enhanced interoperability and transformational capabilities the F-35 brings to Belgium are unmatched,” says Lockheed.

“With stealth technology, advanced sensors, weapons capacity and range, the F-35 is the most capable, survivable and connected fighter aircraft ever built enabling pilots to perform their mission and return home safely.”

The decision sees the F-35 defeat the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon for the requirement. Saab withdrew its Gripen NG from the deal in mid-2017. Three months prior to this, Boeing withdrew its F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, stating that it did not “see an opportunity to compete on a truly level playing field,” due to a perceived preference for the F-35.

The export package includes 38 Pratt & Whitney F135 engines, including four spares, plus the full suite of electronic warfare and command and control systems, along with Lockheed's "autonomic" sustainment and logistic services.

Flight Fleets Analyzer shows that Belgium operates 52 F-16s, of which 44 are single-seat F-16As and nine are two-seat F-16Bs. The average age of the fleet is 31.2 years, with aircraft ages ranging from 27.1 to 36 years.