Belgium’s selection of the Lockheed Martin F-35 to replace its F-16 fleet is not that surprising a step; Brussels had long seemed set on acquiring the type.
What was more eyebrow-raising, however, was the degree of outrage expressed by parts of Europe’s aerospace industry at the Joint Strike Fighter’s triumph.
Both Airbus and Dassault released statements that, while stressing respect for the “sovereign decision”, chided Belgium for not advancing Europe’s cause.
That those two protagonists should complain is a little odd: Airbus did not lead the bid for the Eurofighter consortium; BAE Systems – which is also aft-fuselage manufacturer for the F-35 – had that role, but has kept tactfully silent. And as for Dassault, it was the subject of a French offer so vague as to be inadmissible.
Belgium might also cast an eye at Eurofighter partner nations Italy and the UK, both of which have also opted for the F-35.
Of course, there is much to be said for Europe pulling together on defence matters, but promises of jam tomorrow do not remove the need for a fifth-generation fighter today.
While the decision by France and Germany to collaborate on a future combat air system for the 2040s is commendable, European industry is still suffering from the decisions that led to the bloc developing both the Eurofighter and the Rafale.