Lockheed Martin Rolls Out First F-35A for Belgium at Fort Worth Production Facility

Senior government and military leaders from both the U.S. and Belgium attended the North Texas ceremony Sunday. By serving as "the most advanced 21st-century security solution," the F-35 will connect assets across domains to increase situational awareness for Belgium and its key European partners, Lockheed said.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European governments have been under increased pressure to bolster their militaries in a bid to ramp up deterrence against potential further aggression. So when Lockheed Martin presented the first F-35A Lightning II to the Belgian government Sunday at Lockheed’s F-35 production facility in Fort Worth, the rollout ceremony was far from secret—and carried a message of its own.

Admiral Michel Hofman, Chief of Defense for the Belgian Armed Forces, was on hand for the ceremony, representing one of America’s key NATO allies.

“The introduction of the F-35 within the Belgian Air Force will enable us to continue to fulfil all our missions in the coming decades,” Hofman said in a statement, “in cooperation with our allies and partners in NATO, the EU and beyond.”

Senior government and military leaders from both the U.S. and Belgium attended the North Texas ceremony. Belgium’s program of record calls for 34 F-35As. The first aircraft will be delivered to the Belgian Air Force in 2024, Lockheed said, and will be based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona—where international F-35 pilot and maintainer training are sited. 

‘The next generation of air power’

The F-35 builds on the legacy of the F-16 and aims to provide “the next generation of air power” to ensure the Belgian Air Force can fulfill its NATO missions and protect the alliance’s key interests, Lockheed Martin said.

By serving as “the most advanced 21st-century security solution,” the F-35 will connect assets across domains to increase situational awareness for Belgium and its key European partners, the company added.

“We congratulate Belgium on this significant achievement,” Lt. Gen. Mike Schmidt, program executive officer of the F-35 Joint Program Office, said in a statement. “The growth of the F-35 in Europe strengthens international partnerships, interoperability, and warfighting capability; and emphasizes the importance the aircraft provides as a deterrent against potential adversaries.” 

Greg Ulmer, EVP of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, said the 5th Generation F-35’s “unmatched capability, connectivity, and interoperability” will enable the Belgian Air Force to stay ahead of threats “for decades to come.”

“Today’s milestone would not have been possible without the strong partnership and key contributions from our close partners in Belgian government and industry,” Ulmer added.

980 of the F-35s have been delivered by Lockheed to date

The F-35 will create “high-quality, long-term employment opportunities” for Belgium, Lockheed asserted, bringing “cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and benefits” through the Essential Security Interest (ESI) program. That impact includes increasing Belgian industry’s skills and knowledge and providing high-tech jobs for Belgians for decades to come, the company added.

F-35s are now operating from 31 bases worldwide. To date, Lockheed Martin says it has delivered more than 980 of the fighters, trained more than 2,250 pilots and 15,125 maintainers, and surpassed 768,000 cumulative flight hours with the F-35 fleet.

Lockheed Martin “continues to work side by side with F-35 operators” to ensure allies remain ahead of the evolving threat, the company said.

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