Defence is expecting the delivery of the first F-35A fighter jets in 2025 for the 2W Tac of Florennes and in 2027 for the 10W Tac of Kleine-Brogel. To house and maintain the new weapon system, new infrastructure is needed. The current installations date back to the 50’s and 60’s. These are not adapted to the requirement for a modern fighter jets. Each F-35 complex is realised under the Design, Build & Maintain (DBM) formula. A first partial provisional completion of the buildings at Florennes is scheduled for summer 2024.
Minister of Defence: "The slogan of our air component is ‘Ready for the future.’ Well, the future is being built. The F-35 is the cream of the crop, top technology which will keep our air component at the top in the future, as it is today with our trusted F-16’s. This top technology of course deserves top infrastructure, fitted to the specific requirements of the F-35 and the needs and standards of today.”
A quasi-identical centralised F-35 complex
Defence has chosen to build a quasi-identical centralised F-35 complex on each base. This complex will exist out of four big parts:
- The administrative part contains, apart from the necessary office- and meeting spaces, all needed infrastructure for the contemporary comfort of the personnel: dressing rooms with showers, a cafeteria, coffee corners, etc.
- The logistic part contains a storage area for spare parts and infrastructure for the maintenance of the F-35A with six maintenance docks and houses the necessary workshops such as those for the maintenance of the engines.
- The High Secure Area (HSA) is the most secure part of the F-35 complex. This is where training and operations are planned, and where the flight simulators will be located, four per base. This part of the infrastructure requires specific attention and a coordinated approach with US partners. After all, the installations involved in it must meet the high US safety standards. Moreover, on a purely technical level (including the flight simulators), these installations require an environment that meets very specific HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) requirements.
- The flightline of the F-35 complex will be equipped with sixteen Flightline Aircraft Shelters (FAS) where the jets will be placed in a secure environment and where front-line servicing can also take place. Four of these sixteen shelters will serve specifically for the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) mission: the QRA-FAS. Close to the QRA-FAS will be a Ready Storage Building (RSB) to store the armament for the QRA. The whole will be connected to the base's existing infrastructure via an Apron and Taxiway.
The mentioned new-build infrastructure will be planned in a close and logical relationship with the existing infrastructure. This will result in a coherent and secure F-35 complex that will function as an enclosed entity within the base.
Design, Build & Maintain (DBM)
For the realisation of this project, a public-private partnership was put in place under the form of a Design, Build & Maintain (DBM). A negotiated procedure with publication was conducted with three consortia of contractors in 2020 and 2021. The winning consortium submitted the best price-quality bid.
This consortium is not only responsible for the design and realisation, but also for the technical maintenance of the infrastructure for 10 years after provisional delivery (optionally extendable by an additional 10 years). A first partial provisional handover of the buildings in Florennes is scheduled for summer 2024.
Dedonder: "Let's not beat about the bush here either: this new infrastructure is a huge investment for Defence, which, moreover, has turned out to be a whole lot bigger than initially envisaged. But it is an important investment, as I said, in the future of our air component and in the well-being of the personnel. Indirectly, it is also a major investment in our Belgian economy."
Major General Lieven VANHESTE, head of DG MR C&I: "Meanwhile, the important Design Review phase, in which the design was finalised in close cooperation between the infrastructure designer and Lockheed Martin's aircraft designer, was completed in a record time of just 8 months. The proposed concept will not only meet the technical and functional requirements needed to conduct operations and maintain the F-35A but also addresses sustainability, safety, and personnel welfare."
The project is also doing more than its bit to combat climate change: for example, this new building complex will be very well thermally insulated and heat will be generated via geothermal heat pumps.
Belgian Defence in full rebuilding
Preparatory works started in Florennes in August last year. These are on schedule despite poor weather conditions. The first partial provisional delivery is already planned by summer next year, after which Lockheed Martin can start installing the simulators and other specific equipment. "A very challenging timing," stresses Major General Vanheste. "We are counting on Jan De Nul and all the companies collaborating on the project to make it happen."
In 2018, the Council of Ministers decided to purchase an air combat capability based on the F-35 weapon system to replace the existing F-16. This decision includes the order of 34 F-35A jets, eight flight simulators and associated 'support equipment'. The Belgian government can deploy the advanced multi-role fighter jets for the full spectrum of missions. The planes themselves are of type F-35A; this is different from the F-35B (type F-35 for Short Take-Off and Landing - STOL) and from the F-35C (type F-35 suitable for an aircraft carrier). The aircraft and equipment will be shared equally between the two bases.
Concluding, Minister Dedonder emphasised the rebuilding of Defence: "I want to conclude by stressing that our Belgian Defence is in full rebuilding, both literally - seen here - and figuratively. The STAR-plan and the accompanying approved investments ensure a coherent future for Defence. We are fully committed to personnel, working with our Belgian defence and security industry and other Belgian companies. We are reaching out to young people who do not get opportunities or guidance elsewhere. We are preparing the construction of ‘Quarters of the Future’, open quarters where we interact with the local social connections. A transformation that puts Defence back at the centre of our society, with and thanks to you, for the sake of our security."