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Belgium to buy US F-35 stealth fighter jets: official

© AFP/File | Belgium opted for the US-built F-35 stealth fighter aircraft

BRUSSELS (AFP) - 

Belgium will buy US-made F-35 stealth fighter jets to replace its ageing fleet of F-16s, Prime Minister Charles Michel announced Thursday, discounting the Eurofighter Typhoon.

In March 2017, Belgium launched a bidding process for 34 fighter jets to replace its F-16s for an estimated 3.6 billion euros ($4.1 billion).

The F-35 decision comes as Belgium also buys drones, frigates, minesweepers and armoured vehicles "within the framework of NATO and European defence," Michel told a press confernce.

"The planes and drones are American, the other equipment is European and Belgium will enjoy the economic benefits," Michel added.

According to Pentagon figures earlier this month, 320 F-35s have been delivered globally, mainly to the US but also to Israel and Britain, as well as other partner countries.

The F-35 ran against a bid from the Eurofighter, developed by a European consortium that also comprises Italy's Finmeccanica and Airbus.

Jean-Dominique Giuliani, who heads the Robert Schuman Foundation, a European think tank, lamented the decision.

"It's not a European choice. It's worse than a slap, it is dreadful for European defence," Giuliani told AFP.

The F-35 requires a whole maintenance and operational system that depends "on the control of the United States," he added.

The government said the F-35 will enter service from 2023.

© 2018 AFP