An ability to drop US-made B-61 nuclear bomb besides stealth features that sharply reduce the aircraft’s radar signature were the two key factors which made Brussels select the Lockheed Martin F-35 over the Eurofighter Typhoon.
A day after Belgium announced a 3.6 billion euro deal to buy 34 F-35 fighter jets, cries of “betrayal” were heard in media reports quoting politicians of various European countries, particularly in those that make up the Eurofighter consortium of France, Germany, Spain and the UK.
Belgium’s decision has come at a time when European nations have announced new aircraft development programs, most notably UK-Leonardo partnership with its ‘Tempest’ and France-Germany with their ‘New Generation Fighter.’
However, Belgian Prime Minsiter Charles Michel said Belgium was looking to both Europe and the United States to meet its defence needs. Belgium is also buying drones, frigates, minesweepers and armoured vehicles "within the framework of NATO and European defence," Michel said during a news conference.
Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said the US offer "was the best from the price and operational standpoint."
European firms say that the Belgian fighter replacement tender was loaded in favor of the F-35 with the twin requirements of nuclear bomb and stealth features, both of which are unavailable with the two main European contenders, Eurofighter and Dassault Rafale. While the French firm withdrew from the competition, Eurofighter stayed on only to be defeated by the American aircraft.
Critics say that for the kind of missions the Belgian air force flies, stealth features and nuclear weapons delivery capability are an overkill. However, Brussels insists that Belgium has been carrying out nuclear missions on behalf of NATO for decades. The F-16s stationed at Kleine-Brogel (F-16A) are capable of carrying and dropping an American B-61 nuclear bomb and only the F-35 is capable of continuing the mission once the F-16s are retired.
Analysts say that both the Eurofighter and the Rafale were designed to be fourth generation aircraft and are no match to the fifth-generation F-35 in terms of technology and mission profile.