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Belgium receives first F-35

The first of 34 F-35A aircraft for Belgium was formally presented on 10 December 2023. (Lockheed Martin)

Belgium formally received its first Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) during a roll-out ceremony at the Fort Worth production facility in the United States.

Aircraft AY-01/FL001 was presented to the Belgian government and military leaders on 10 December, ahead of delivery to the international F-35 training school at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona in early 2024.

News of the handover came days after the Belgian Ministry of Defence (MoD) said on 23 November that the first elements of the Belgian F-35 Conversion Unit (BEL F-35 CU) had arrived at Luke AFB. With 34 conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) Block 4 F-35As on order for Belgium, a total of 48 pilots, 14 flight simulator instructors, and 120 technicians will pass through the BEL F-35 CU in the coming years.

Belgium selected the F-35A as its Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon replacement in October 2018. As noted by Janes World Air Forces, the Belgian Air Component's (BAC's) F‐35As should attain basic operational capability, performing quick reaction alert (QRA), in 2025. This is the same year during which the first four F-35As are scheduled to arrive at Florennes Air Base. Initial operational capability, which is linked to the ability to undertake limited expeditionary operations, is foreseen in mid‐2027 and full operational capability in late 2030, when deliveries are complete.

Interestingly, as evidenced by the markings on AY-01/FL001, the BAC has followed the Royal Danish Air Force and is adopting coloured roundels for its aircraft. With so many international operators of this type, the typical low-visibility roundels are increasingly difficult to tell apart and are becoming largely irrelevant.

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