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​State Department clears potential F-35A export to Belgium

The US State Department has approved a possible foreign military sale of 34 Lockheed Martin F-35As to Belgium worth an estimated $6.53 billion, the agency announced this week.

Lockheed still needs Congressional approval, but the State Department blessing moves Lockheed once step closer in its bid to replace Belgium’s aging fleet of 59 F-16A/Bs.

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.

Last spring, Boeing bowed out of the €3.6 billion ($4 billion) fighter competition in Brussels, saying “we do not see an opportunity to compete on a truly level playing field with the...F/A-18 Super Hornet.”

The list of possible candidates for Belgium narrowed down further in July, when Saab withdrew its Gripen E. Saab cited Belgium’s need for extensive operational support from the delivering nation, a feat Sweden would not be able to deliver under existing foreign policy today.

That leaves Lockheed, along with the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon. The latter submitted a proposal to the Belgian government in October. Meanwhile, the French government offered an economic return of €20 billion ($24.4 billion) over 20 years to Belgium in exchange for purchasing the Rafale, the Brussels Times reported.

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