The assembly of the first two F-35A Lightning II fighter planes intended for the Belgian Air Force has begun in Italy, with a view to their delivery next year, Belga press agency learned on Thursday from various sources.
Major components of these two aircraft – the central wing and the external wing boxes – are being assembled at the Cameri plant of the Italian company Leonardo, an industrial partner of the F-35 programme, Lockheed Martin told Belga press agency.
Cameri air base (LIMN), near Milan, is home to one of three F-35 final assembly lines in the world, along with the one run by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Nagoya (Japan) and the main one based at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas.
Once complete, these wing elements will be transported to Fort Worth, where all Belgian F-35As will be built, said a spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin.
The first four F-35s – they will be registered from FL-01 to FL-34 – are to be delivered to Belgium in 2023. They will, however, remain stationed at Luke Air Force Base, near Phoenix, Arizona, for initial pilot and mechanic training. This will also be the case for the following four aircraft in 2024. It will not be until 2025, in principle in April, that the first four aircraft are expected at Florennes air base (EBFS).
The Belgian Air Component began flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon and C-130 Hercules in the 1970s. More than 40 years later, this strong partnership continues with the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II. Just like the F-16 has for more than four decades, the F-35 programme is poised to generate high-quality, long-term jobs for Belgium long into the future.
Through the Essential Security Interest (ESI) programme, Lockheed Martin will provide industrial opportunities for multiple Belgian companies in all three geographic regions. The projects secured through the ESI program will bring cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and benefits, expanding Belgian industry’s skills and knowledge and providing high-tech jobs for Belgians for decades to come.
Some of the companies that have secured projects through the ESI programme include ASCO, Feronyl, ILIAS Solutions, SABCA, Sonaca, and AMI Metals.
The Belgian Air Component will operate F-35s from Kleine-Brogel air base in the Flanders region and Florennes air base in the Walloon region.