Two of the government majority parties have criticised a decision by the Ministry of Defence to allow an air show next week to be sponsored by three aircraft manufacturers who are at the same time bidding for a contract to construct new fighter planes for the government. The Belgian Air Force Days event takes place on 8 and 9 September, and posters clearly show the sponsors to be the French company Dassault, parent company of the Rafale, the US company Lockheed Martin, and the Eurofighter conglomerate. The event takes place at the Limburg air base at Kleine-Brogel.
“In such a sensitive dossier, taking account of the number of discussions that have taken place within the government, Defence could have done without the financial support of these companies,” said Tim Vandeput, defence specialist for Open VLD. “If you were a local councillor, you would ask all the road builders in the area to sponsor the annual ball,” said Hendrik Bogaert (CD&V).
The defence ministry has argued there is no question of irregularities between the two matters – the fighter contract and the air show. A number of other companies were also invited to take part in the sponsorship of the event, a spokesperson said.
The three sponsors are in competition to produce the 34 successors to the F-16 fighter, a contract worth €3.4 million in purchase price alone, and many multiples of that in updates and maintenance over the years.
The decision on who gets the contract is still a long way off. The defence ministry has compared the two bids from Lockheed and Eurofighter, but Dassault has chosen to apply outside of the standard procedure. All bids run until 14 October, but if there is no clear decision from the government at that time, a new round of negotiations with the bidders will begin.