Belgium to join Franco-German Sixth-Gen FCAS Fighter Jet Project

Visitors attend the unveiling ceremony of the full-scale jet fighter model of the French-German-Spanish new-generation Future Combat Air System at the 2019 Paris Air Show. (Eric Piermont/AFP via Getty Images)

The Belgian government has hinted at its willingness to join a multinational programme to develop a European sixth-generation fighter jet.

Belgium has ordered 34 F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation fighter jets. Lockheed Martin recently began building the first aircraft. It will be ready by the end of this year, but will remain in the US for pilot training. Deliveries to Belgium are planned for 2025.

Despite the F-35 order, Belgium is ready to join the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project. The European country is in talks with interested parties, but so far the talks are about “observer status”.

Leaders of the FCAS project are France, Germany and Spain. Defence companies Dassault Aviation, Airbus and Indra play an active role in the programme. Éric Trappier, director-general of the former, stated that he was against expanding FCAS to include countries that participate in the F-35 programme. Even if we are talking about European states. However, he does not rule out the possibility of observer countries joining.

Observer status for Belgium should not worry either Trappier or FCAS partners as it will not entail immediate participation of the Belgian industry. This was reported by Defense News, citing a German industry source who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. Besides, Belgium has ordered the F-35 and will not be in dire need of fighters for 30 years.

Alain De Neve, a researcher at Belgium’s Royal High Institute of Defence, agrees. He also argues that excluding Belgium from the project solely because it ordered the F-35 looks unlikely. For example, Germany as a member of FCAS last year allocated almost $10bn to buy the F-35, but still remains in the project and this has not prompted protests from Dassault.

Belgium has not made an official statement regarding joining FCAS. However, Olivier Andriès, Safran’s CEO, has expressed his desire for the country to join the FCAS project rather than the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP), which is developing a sixth-generation aircraft for Britain, Japan and Italy.

We’ll see how things develop further. Dassault Aviation has no new comments on Belgium’s possible entry into the FCAS program. Indra, too, remains silent. A representative of Airbus only said that this is a political decision that must be agreed upon by France, Germany and Spain.

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