On December 10, 2023, a new milestone was reached for the Belgian Air Force as Lockheed Martin officially presented Belgium’s first F-35 Lightning II. This ceremony, held at Lockheed Martin’s F-35 production facility, not only marks a pivotal moment for the Belgian Air Force but also symbolizes the strengthening of ties between the United States and Belgium, a crucial NATO ally.
Admiral Michel Hofman, the Chief of Defence for the Belgian Armed Forces, emphasized the importance of the F-35’s introduction to the Belgian Air Force. He stated that it would enable Belgium to continue fulfilling its missions in the coming decades, in cooperation with NATO, the EU, and other partners. The F-35, succeeding the legacy of the F-16, is set to provide the Belgian Air Force with the next generation of air power, ensuring the fulfillment of NATO missions and the protection of the alliance’s key interests.
One of the notable aspects of the F-35 program is its contribution to creating high-quality, long-term employment opportunities in Belgium. Through the Essential Security Interest (ESI) program, Lockheed Martin is set to introduce advanced manufacturing techniques and benefits to the Belgian industry, thereby expanding the skills and knowledge of the Belgian workforce and providing high-tech jobs for decades.
Belgium’s commitment to the F-35 program includes a total of 34 F-35s. The first of these aircraft, designated AY-01, will be delivered to the Belgian Air Force in the following year. Until then, it will be stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, a hub for international F-35 pilot and maintainer training.
The rollout ceremony was attended by senior government and military leaders from both Belgium and the United States, highlighting the program’s international significance and the collaborative effort between the two nations.
This event is not just a milestone for the Belgian Air Force but also a testament to the growing global presence of the F-35, which is now operating from 31 bases worldwide. With more than 980 F-35s delivered, over 2,250 pilots trained, and the fleet surpassing 768,000 cumulative flight hours, the F-35 continues to be a cornerstone of modern air power and international defense collaboration.