While the German Tornado replacement requirement put the spotlight solidly on both the F-35 and the Typhoon, the Luftwaffe has been quietly discussing common ground with the Belgian Air Force, which too is in the midst of a similar competition to replace its F-16s. Like Germany, Belgium is evaluating both the Typhoon and the F-35 and both nations have critical elements to their recapitalization efforts — neither are F-35 partner nations and both have nuclear strike requirements. In fact, Belgium is the only existing F-16 European Partner Air Force (EPAF) nation that hasn’t signed up to the Lightning II. Whilst the nuclear mission is incredibly sensitive and Belgium is understood to have remained silent on the matter, it’s clearly a significant factor. The F-35 is already planned to include the B61-12 nuclear bomb in its inventory. While similar plans don’t currently exist for the Typhoon, it is believed that a similar nuclear capability could on the table for Eurofighter and that feasibility studies have been completed.
The competition in Belgium is in a critical phase, with best and final offers (BAFOs) being submitted on February 14. It’s a straight fight between the Typhoon and the Lightning II to supply 34 jets, with entry into service in 2023 and full transition by 2030. The Typhoon offer is from the UK government on behalf of the Eurofighter EPCs and it represents a full partnership with the RAF.
Anthony Gregory is the Campaign Director for Belgium at BAE Systems. He told Combat Aircraft: ‘Belgium is looking for a deep and enduring collaboration and this represents the most extensive partnership the RAF has ever put forward.’ The UK offer to Belgium is understood to include the full Project ‘Centurion’ weapons set and full integration into the TyTAN support model for the most efficient cost per flying hour. The aircraft on offer is understood to be a snapshot of what the RAF expects to be flying in 2023 — probably a P4E-vision with the E-Scan radar, Striker II helmet, SPEAR 3 and the full UK weapons set; Meteor, ASRAAM, Storm Shadow, Brimstone and Paveway IV.
Traditionally, Belgium has enjoyed a close working relationship with the Royal Netherlands Air Force, but the Dutch involvement as a Tier 2 partner in the F-35 program means their Benelux brothers are currently left on the sidelines and standing to incur a significant cost to buy into the Lightning II program. Gregory points to the UK and US Air Force models of partnering F-35 with the F-22 or the Typhoon, the ‘complementary mix’ of assets — the Typhoon being the high-end air defender, and the F-35 not being as well suited to quick reaction alert (QRA) or air policing. So, partnering Typhoon with F-35 could provide a rounded solution for the Benelux.
To read more on this and a full update on the Typhoon, look out for our free supplement, coming in the April issue, which is on sale March 1.
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