WASHINGTON — Sweden will not put forward Saab's Gripen E for Belgium's fighter contest, the country's defense ministry announced Monday.

In a notice explaining the decision, the Swedish Defense Materiel Administration, or FMV, said the government was not prepared to provide the operational support required by the Belgian government, which is seeking out 34 new fighters to replace its fleet of 54 F-16s.

"This would require a Swedish foreign policy and political mandate that does not exist today. Therefore Sweden and the FMV choose not to submit an answer to the Belgian request," the notice stated.

The decision is a blow to Sweden's major defense firm Saab. Earlier this year, company officials said it hoped to propose the next-generation version of its Gripen fighter jet, the Gripen E, which made its first flight last month.

Lockheed Martin’s F-35, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale are the likely remaining competitors for the Belgian competition.

Of those choices, the F-35 will be the likely victor and could be Lockheed’s only new F-35 sale this year, said Byron Callan, director of Capital Alpha Partners, an investment consulting firm.

"As one of the four countries that purchased F-16s in part of the ‘deal of the century’ in 1975, Belgium is the only country that has not yet reached a decision. Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway have all selected the Lockheed Martin F-35," he wrote in an emailed newsletter.

Saab is the second major aerospace company to pull out of the competition. Boeing withdrew the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet from the running in April, decrying Belgium’s requirements as unfairly slanted toward the F-35.

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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