The U.K. Ministry of Defence submitted to Belgium its final offer for 34 Eurofighter Typhoon swing-role combat aircraft in the competition to replace Belgium’s F-16s, the ministry said in a press release.
“The proposal includes 34 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, underpinned by the offer of a deep strategic, defence and industrial partnership between the Governments of Belgium and the U.K.,” the Wednesday, February 14 release said.
Belgium will retire its F-16s in the mid- to late 2020s and wants deliveries of successor aircraft to begin by the end of 2022, and full capability by 2029. The new aircraft – to be purchased in a government-to-government deal – will be chosen this year, and Wednesday was the deadline for submission of “best and final offers.”
The U.K. MoD, which is leading the proposal on behalf of the partner nations and companies involved in the Eurofighter program, said the proposal has the full support of the governments of Germany, Italy and Spain.
“These proven jets offer Belgium a formidable capability which forms the backbone of European air power, as well as a comprehensive long-term defence and industrial partnership with the U.K.,” Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said. “A unique partnership with the RAF and integration with our world-leading support service mean Belgium’s selection of the Typhoon would be a powerful demonstration of us working together to support security across the continent in the face of intensifying threats.”
Stressing the aircraft’s reliability and interoperability, Air Vice Marshal Keith Bethell said the Typhoon has “more than 20,000 flying hours on global operations to date.” The Typhoon has been procured by nine nations.
As part of the deal, the U.K. has proposed “integration with the RAF’s Typhoon support arrangements” and a “comprehensive package including a training partnership which would see personnel from Belgium and the U.K. jointly train and exercise together,” the release said.
Unusually, the proposal also “offers Belgium the opportunity to establish a National Network Cyber Centre, a Cyber Innovation Centre and a Cyber Research Partnership, all underpinned by a partnership between the UK and Belgian governments.”
The MoD release said that there would be “opportunities for Belgian industry to work more closely with the Eurofighter Typhoon industrial partners,” adding that this would position Belgian industry “for partnership in the development of next generation combat air capabilities.”
On November 8, Airbus revealed a New Fighter concept that could replace the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale in the 2040-timeframe.
The estimated cost of the package was not released by the MoD. On December 10, Qatar signed a contract worth £6 billion (€6.8 billion, $8 billion) with the U.K. for 24 Eurofighter Typhoons , plus Brimstone and Meteor missiles and Paveway IV bombs. The Qatar deal included a package of training and co-operation between the RAF and Qatar Emiri Air Force, including Qatari pilots and ground crew training in the UK, and the creation of a Joint Operational Squadron. BAE in a press release valued the contract for the supply of the aircraft plus a “bespoke support and training package” at £5 billion (€5.7 billion, $6.7 billion).
The competition to replace Belgium’s F-16s has been a long and at times controversial one, with many commentators saying the contest is skewed towards the F-35.
In 2015, Belgium requested information about five aircraft – Lockheed Martin F-35; Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet; Eurofighter Typhoon; Dassault Rafale; and Saab Gripen – to enable the defense ministry to make a recommendation to the government.
In April 2017, Boeing withdrew the F/A-18 Super Hornet from the competition, saying that it did not see “an opportunity to compete on a truly level playing field.” Three months later, Sweden withdrew the Saab Gripen E from the competition, saying “Belgium is also seeking extensive operational support from the delivering nation. This would require a Swedish foreign policy and political mandate that does not exist today.”
Belgium MR Deputy Richard Miller said on Wednesday that France did not respond to the procurement notice.
“The French government considers that it has more to offer than was explicitly expressed in the tender documents, which it feels were too restricted, and advances the idea of a “deep and structured partnership,” The Brussels Times quoted Miller as saying.
Some have argued that the ability to drop the American B-61 nuclear gravity bomb, which was included in the RFP, skewed the competition to the F-35A, the only aircraft of the five that can deploy the weapon.
Others said that the decision will be based on which of its near (and far) neighbors it wants to align more closely to – the Netherlands, Norway, Britain, Italy, Denmark and Turkey have ordered the F-35 and Germany is considering the F-35 as a replacement its Tornados, while France fields the Rafale.