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Lockheed Martin begins Belgian F-35 build

Belgian Air Chief Major General Thierry Dupont signed the bulkhead of the first of Belgium's F-35As while visiting Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth factory on 5 June. (Belgian Air Component)

Lockheed Martin has begun building the first F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) for Belgium at its Fort Worth facility in Texas.

The Belgian Air Component (BAC) announced the milestone on 7 June, posting an image of Belgian Air Chief Major General Thierry Dupont signing the bulkhead of aircraft AY-01 two days prior. This milestone will be followed by assembly of the wider aircrft, ahead of delivery to the BAC in December.

The BAC is to receive 34 conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) Block 4 F-35As, the first of which are being built in lots 15–17 of the production programme.

Belgium selected the F-35A as its Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon replacement in October 2018. Belgian pilots and operational support personnel began training on the F-35A in the US in 2022, with technicians following in 2023.

As noted by Janes World Air Forces, the BAC's F‐35As should start entering service in 2023 and a basic operational capability, performing quick reaction alert (QRA), is set to be achieved in 2025. This is the same year during which the first four F-35As are scheduled to arrive at Florennes.

Initial operational capability (IOC), which is linked to the ability to undertake limited expeditionary operations, is foreseen in mid‐2027 and full operational capability (FOC) for late 2030 when deliveries are complete.

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