The construction of the first two F-35A fighter jets for the Belgian Air Force has begun, with a view to their delivery next year, sources said on Thursday.
Major components of the two aircraft – the central wing and the external wing boxes – are being assembled at the Cameri plant of Italian company Leonardo, an industrial partner in the F-35 programme, the US group Lockheed Martin told the Belga News Agency.
The Cameri base, near Milan, is home to one of the three F-35 assembly lines – known as the "Final Assembly and Check-Out" (FACO) – in the world, along with the one run by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Nagoya (Japan) and the main one in Fort Worth, in the US state of Texas.
Once complete, these wing components will be transported to Fort Worth, where all Belgian F-35As will be built, a Lockheed Martin spokesperson said, without providing further details.
No date was given for the first flight of the first aircraft but the start of construction was confirmed by a Belgian specialist in the field. The first four F-35s will be delivered to Belgium next year.
However, they will remain stationed in the United States at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona, for the initial training of pilots and mechanics. This will also be the case for the next four aircraft in 2024. The first four aircraft are not expected to arrive at Florennes Air Force Base in Wallonia until April 2025.
In October 2018, the Belgian government purchased 34 F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters for €3.8 billion. To this amount must be added the €238 million provided for in the STAR plan approved last June by the current government, for the further development of the F-35's capabilities in the period 2031-2035.