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Belgian RFP Sets Open Competition for F-16 Replacement

Discussion in 'Europe & EU' started by Layman, Mar 29, 2017.

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    Layman Colonel Senior Member

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    Belgian RFP Sets Open Competition for F-16 Replacement
    (Source: Defense-Aerospace.com; posted March 27, 2017)

    By Giovanni de Briganti

    [​IMG]
    An upgraded Belgian Air Force F-16AM fighter. Belgium has asked five governments to offer their top-of-the line fighters for their replacement beginning in 2023. (Belgian AF photo)

    PARIS --- Belgium last week made public the full Request for Government Proposals (RfGP) that it sent to the five countries that it has selected to bid for the replacement of its F-16 fighters.

    Unexpectedly, the document does not appear to have been drafted to favor the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as did a previous request for information issued in 2014, but appears to allow an open competition which all five candidates – Boeing Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed F-35 and Saab Gripen – have a reasonable chance of winning. Final offers are due on February 14, 2018.

    Side-stepping the nuclear trap

    Contrary to expectations, the final RfGP does not mention the nuclear strike mission, on which the air force command (Force Aérienne Belge, or FAB) had been counting to rationalize its preference for the F-35.

    Although this has never been publicly admitted, it is an open secret that Belgium’s F-16 are configured to carry the US-made B-61 tactical nuclear bomb. The inclusion of a nuclear requirement for the new fighter would have de facto excluded the three European candidates: Sweden had already said it wouldn’t allow the Gripen to carry nuclear weapons, Eurofighter doesn’t have a nuclear role, and the United States would not allow their bomb to be integrated on the Rafale for reasons of secrecy.

    Thus, the FAB was confident that the inclusion of the nuclear mission would ensure selection of the F-35, which a previous defense minister, Pieter de Crem, had promised the United States that Belgium would buy.

    The nuclear requirement was recently confirmed by FAB Col. Harold van Pee, the director of the Air Combat Capability Program, who told Knock magazine in mid-February that “Belgium requests that the F-16’s successor can carry nuclear weapons.”

    In fact, the final draft of the RFP doesn’t even mention the nuclear mission, which is hidden away under a sub-requirement for “growth potential,” and which in any case counts for less than 0.8% of the selection criteria.

    Open competition welcomed

    The Belgian government seems to have successfully side-stepped the trap by unexpectedly separating the two issues and selecting a new fighter while pushing the nuclear question back to the mid-2020s, when the F-16s will be retired and when the NATO nuclear strike mission may well have disappeared.

    By holding an open competition, Belgium stands in stark contrast with Australia, Italy, the UK and most recently Denmark, which in May 2016 said it would buy the F-35 on the basis of a report so slanted that Boeing earlier this month sued the Danish government.

    Belgium’s exclusion of the nuclear requirement, which makes an open competition possible, was welcomed across the political spectrum. Ecologist MP Benoît Helligns, a member of the Parliamentary commission on military acquisitions, welcomed “an open competition,” while Denis Ducarme, an MP of the conservative Mouvement Reformateur party, told the Le Soir newspaper that “when I see that Donald Trump is ready to drop the F-35 and to buy from Boeing, I say it’s time for us to buy a European aircraft.”

    Socialist MP Sébastien Pirlot told Le Soir that the RFP “gives European manufacturers a chance, especially as the F-35 is very expensive and generates many add-on costs.” He added that he favors “the Rafale, which offers better industrial returns as Dassault already has subsidiaries in Belgium.”

    34 fighters to serve until 2058

    Belgium wants to buy 34 “new-build multi-role combat aircraft,” with initial deliveries beginning in 2023 and continuing at a rate of 4 or 5 aircraft per year until 2030. A budget of 3.573 billion euros has been earmarked for the purchase, rising to about 15 billion euros when operating costs are included.

    The RFP states that “Basic Operational Capability (BOC) allowing Quick Reaction Alert duties with the new weapon system should be possible by mid-2025,” with Initial Operational Capability to follow by mid-2027 and Full Operational Capability by late 2030.


    Source
: Belgian

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