The F-35 for Belgium
Maintaining air superiority is essential to preserving global security. And the F-35 is the world’s premiere air superiority multirole fighter, designed to protect and defend against the most advanced threats in the air and on the ground, today and into the future. The F-35 offers unprecedented technology and supportability across the spectrum of military operations and ensures interoperability with key Belgian allies in a continued shared commitment to defense and peacekeeping activities. There are currently more than 260 F-35s flying across the world, and as the fleet continues to expand, the price will continue to decrease – the current life-cycle operating costs are already comparable to today’s 4th Generation fighters.
What is a "5th Generation" Fighter?
A 5th Generation fighter is a fighter jet that has advanced stealth, exceptional agility and maneuverability, sensor and information fusion, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment. This technology provides pilots with unprecedented survivability and situational awareness, and the entire fighting force with improved readiness and lower support costs.
Unlike 4th Generation fighters, as a true 5th Generation fighter, the F-35 has stealth designed in as part of the aircraft from the beginning.
Reliance on any single aircraft for a specific capability is no longer sufficient for a modern air force’s success and survivability. Missions traditionally performed by specialized aircraft — electronic attack, air-to-surface strikes, air-to-air combat, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — can now be executed by a squadron of F-35s.
Mission Systems and Sensor Fusion
The F-35 has the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history. Data collected by these sensors will immediately be shared with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground, providing an instantaneous view of multi-mission operations. This allows pilots to focus on the mission at hand instead of integrating information from many sensors and mission systems together to make decisions.
Some of the specific components of the F-35’s mission systems and sensors suite are:
- An active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that uses the newest generation of radar technology.
- The Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) targeting system, the world's first and only sensor that combines forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and infrared search and track (IRST) functionality for the most precise targeting data available.
- The Distributed Aperture System (DAS), which sends high resolution real-time imagery to the pilot’s helmet from six cameras mounted around the jet.
- Helmet Mounted Display (HMD), which displays all the information a pilot needs to complete their missions on the visor of the helmet.
The F-35’s stealth capabilities are unprecedented in tactical fighter aviation, allowing pilots to fly undetected by radars that legacy fighters cannot evade. An integrated airframe design, advanced materials and other specialized design features give the F-35 this significant advantage over 4th Generation aircraft. Extensive analysis and flight test of the survivability of the F-35 demonstrate conclusively its superior advantages.
The F-35 is designed to share everything it can see with other aircraft and operation centers to expand situational awareness across the entire force. F-35s can communicate with each other, and also with legacy aircraft, to achieve mission success.
The F-35 will enable the Belgian Air Force to continue to be a strong contributing member of NATO, participating in coalition activities, such as peacekeeping operations. Many of Belgium’s long-time allies, including the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Denmark and Norway are F-35 program participants. The F-35 Lightning II can help Belgium ensure its national security and its ability for coalition building and interoperability for decades to come.
In addition, the F-35 combines unprecedented operational capability with an affordable and efficient global sustainment network, making it the most cost-effective solution for Belgium.
According to the most recent F-35 contract reached in February 2017, the approximate per variant unit prices, including jet, engine and fee are as follows:
- F-35A: $94.3 million
- F-35B: $122.8 million
- F-35C $121.8 million
All F-35 customers share supply chain, flight and maintenance training, and integrated operations costs, providing significant savings when it comes to operational costs. Belgium’s neighboring countries are already flying the F-35, which will provide even more opportunities for cost-sharing and partnership.
With more than 260 F-35 Lightning IIs already delivered and being flown by pilots of eight partner countries at 14 bases worldwide; assembly of even more jets underway at three factories across the globe; and F-35s across the fleet having flown more than 120,000 combined hours, the F-35 is undeniably ready to meet the needs of the Belgian Air Force. Some of the recent significant milestones that show the program’s maturity are:
- The United States Marine Corps deployed the F-35 to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, marking the first time an F-35 has been permanently forward-deployed.
- Israel received its first two jets at Nevatim Air Base in December 2016 and flew the jet the very next day, making it the first country outside the U.S. to operate the jet.
- The F-35 was declared combat ready by the U.S. Marine Corps (2015) and the U.S. Air Force (2016).
- In 2016, the F-35A made its European debut in the Netherlands; just a month later, the F-35B made its debut in the UK at the Royal International Air Tattoo.
- In 2017, the F-35 performed its first aerial demonstration at the Paris Air Show
- More than 500 F-35 pilots and 5,000 F-35 maintainers have been trained.
Lockheed Martin and the Belgian military and industry have a longstanding working relationship, partnering on programs such as the C-130 Hercules and F-16 Fighting Falcon since the 1970s.
Lockheed Martin continues to actively work with Belgian industry on expanding business opportunities. In 2015, Lockheed Martin signed a memorandum of understanding with Esterline Belgium, ILIAS Solutions, SABCA and SONACA, signifying a strong interest in exploring industrial cooperation opportunities in high-technology defense, aerospace, cyber and security sectors. More recently, Lockheed Martin signed a partnership agreement to implement ILIAS’ F-16 Mission Driven Logistics system more broadly across global the F-16 fleet.
Belgium’s participation in the F-35 program would provide many opportunities to pursue the next generation of industry partnerships in Belgium.