The Reuters News Agency reports that Belgium has chosen Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth jets over the Eurofighter Typhoon to replace its aging F-16s, a move that would cement the U.S.-made war plane’s position in Europe.
The country has been deliberating for months over a multibillion-dollar purchase of 34 new fighter jets, with a late October deadline looming. Lockheed spokeswoman Carolyn Nelson did not confirm that a purchasing decision has been made, but if so, Belgium will become the 12th country to buy the radar-evading F-35 fighters and could help to strengthen the U.S. aerospace company’s position in potential offers from Switzerland, Finland and Germany.
News of the order comes not long after all F-35 fighter jets were temporarily grounded. The F-35 Joint Program Office said the U.S. and its international partners had suspended flights of the Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the Lightning II, until a fleet-wide inspection of the aircraft’s fuel tubes were completed. Officials ordered the inspection following a nonfatal crash on Sept. 28 in Beaufort, South Carolina. The F-35 Joint Program Office reported earlier this month that the majority of the single-seat, single-engine jets have resumed flight operations.
The most expensive weapons program of its type, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has been under development for decades by the U.S. and its allies and is set to enter a round of testing to determine if the jet is indeed ready for action worldwide. The highly anticipated initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) tests will start in November 2018 and conclude in July 2019. There are collectively more than 240 F-35s among the Marines, Air Force and Navy.