On 10th November 2023, the Lockheed-Martin company announced completion of final assembly of the first F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft for Luchtcomponent / Composante air, the air arm of the Belgian Armed Forces (BAF).
The aircraft, designated AY-01, has now been sent to paint shop and next it will undergo series of final factory checks, including the stealth test. Official roll-out and then handover of the first Belgian 5th generation fighter is planned for 10th December 2023.
Similarly to other countries that decided to purchase the F-35 fighter, the first examples of the aircraft will stay in the United States and will be used for the BAF training purposes. According to current schedule, the first Belgian locally based 5th generation jets should arrive to their air base in Florennes in 2025. After another two years, further F-35s should also arrive to Kleine-Brogel, their second operational base in Belgium.
In 2018, the Belgian Armed Forces ordered thirty-four examples of the F-35A Lightning II fighter. The aircraft is intended to replace the country´s ageing fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons, and to maintain the interoperability of the Belgian Air Component with its traditional neighbour partner, the Royal Netherlands Air Force, as well as other NATO countries that also use this type of aircraft.
The RNLAF had already ordered fifty-two examples of that 5th generation fighter and is way ahead with implementation of the F-35 with the first aircraft delivered in 2019. The 322nd Squadron of the RNLAF was the first to receive its complete inventory of the F-35 fighters. Then, starting the early 2022, the deliveries began for the 313th Squadron. In addition, the country´s MoD began to consider the possibility of establishing the third squadron equipped with the F-35s. According to the official announcements, the Dutch F-35 jets should achieve their full operational capability in 2024.
In September of 2023, the first four locally based F-35 Lightning II fighters arrived to Denmark (click here for further details). The Royal Danish Air Force have already received ten of twenty-seven ordered aircraft, including six examples which remained in the United States for training purposes.
In turn, the Belgian F-35 programme seems to be lagging. In August of 2023, the Belgian press informed about the country´s refusal to accept two first F-35A aircraft due to ´technical non-compliance´ with initial specification. It is estimated that the abovementioned refusal caused approximately six months delivery delay. What´s more, further delays are expected due to Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which the Israeli Air Force intensively uses the F-35 Adir aircraft and currently needs both deliveries of spare parts and new aircraft.
The above facts may also cause perturbations in the F-35 deliveries to Poland that, according to the delivery schedule, is the customer next-in-line. It means Poland that ordered thirty-two aircraft in January of 2020 and is following Belgium in the Lightning II delivery schedule. According to the initial agreement, the first F-35s for Poland are expected to be ready in 2024, with the first locally based aircraft to be handed over in the late 2025.
Cover photo: Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, USAF / flying display during Belgian Air Force Days 2023, Kleine-Brogel air base (illustrative photo)