WASHINGTON — Belgium has officially selected the F-35 as its next-generation fighter, becoming the 13th country to join the program, the Belgian government announced Thursday.

With that decision, Lockheed Martin has defeated a bid by the governments of Spain, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom for the Eurofighter Typhoon, as well as an informal offer by France for the Dassault Rafale and an option for Belgium to upgrade its existing F-16s.

Belgium plans to buy 34 F-35As to replace F-16 inventory, which numbers about 54 jets. The U.S. State Department has already approved the deal, which has an estimated value of $6.5 billion.

According to Reuters, Belgian Defence Minister Steven Vandeput told reporters on Oct. 25 that the F-35 beat the other contenders in all seven selection criteria.

“We are investing heavily in defense,” Vandeput tweeted, citing Belgium’s decision to buy F-35s and new land vehicles.

Meanwhile, U.S. stakeholders immediately began celebrating the outcome of the competition.

“Lockheed Martin is honored by the Belgian government’s selection of the F-35A Lightning II for their future national security needs,” the company said in a statement. “We look forward to supporting the U.S. government in delivering the F-35 program to meet the requirements of the Belgian government.”

Vice Adm. Mat Winter, head of the the F-35 joint program executive office, said the decision to join the program will strengthen the U.S.-Belgian relationship.

“We look forward to working closely with our Belgian teammates as they mature plans for purchasing their F-35s,” he said in a statement.

The U.S. Embassy in Brussels tweeted a response to Vandeput, stressing how Belgium’s F-35 selection would add to NATO interoperability.

“Belgium will fly @thef35 alongside some of its closest @NATO allies & longtime partners in air defense. US is extremely proud of our enduring air partnership w/ Belgium,” it said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, said Belgium’s F-35 buy “reaffirms Belgium’s military and strategic partnership with the United States, as well as builds Belgium’s defense capabilities as a strong NATO ally.”

Turner had interfaced with Belgian officials over the past year, providing assurances that the U.S. Congress would support an F-35 sale to Brussels, he said in a statement.

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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