The federal government has approved the mechanism that will allow the investments necessary for the production of certain parts of Lockheed Martin’s F-35s by Asco, Sabca and Sonaca.
More than two years after the decision of the Michel government to acquire 34 American F-35 combat aircraft, the Belgian aviation industry is starting to see a reality the real benefits of this contract: the Federal government recently approved the creation of” a mechanism to finance the investments necessary for the manufacture, by equipment manufacturers in our country, of important parts of Lockheed Martin’s device.
The elements in question, these are the rear control surfaces of the aircraft (horizontal tail plane). Three heavyweights in the sector in Belgium, who are used to working together on Airbus programs, have joined forces to supply this set. Sabca to supply special composite panels from its factory in Lummen, Asco (Zaventem) will produce mechanisms to operate these elements and Sonaca will provide Gosselies precision assembly.
Contracts over fifteen years
An agreement in principle has been reached with Lockheed Martin for the supply of these items. for several hundred planes, for about fifteen years, from 2025. Belgium having stayed away from the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project – the program that led to the F-35, it could not so far benefit from contracts for the production of parts of the aircraft, apart from a few specific agreements involving certain subsidiaries of Belgian companies (Solvay, Asco and Esterline).
“There could not be a disproportion between the investment and the income generated.”
Lockheed deal expected to cover new contracts to be signed with countries which, like Belgium, were not initially part of the program. That is about 400 million turnover according to projections, to be divided between Asco, Sabca and Sonaca.
Investments and a joint venture
But this agreement with the American manufacturer requires significant investments from manufacturers, in particular to acquire manufacturing technologies, with the support of Lockhheed Martin, which must be remunerated for this know how transfer. “Investments, to the tune of around 60 million euros, which could not be reimbursed solely on this project. Global investment had to remain within the reach of manufacturers involved. There could not be a disproportion between the investment and the income generated “explains the boss of Sonaca, Bernard Delvaux, who specifies that his company will have to build a new hall at its Gosselies site.
A joint venture will be created, like what exists within the framework of the Belairbus consortium, which is the Belgian partner of the European manufacturer. The three industrialists concerned will be “shareholders of this structure, which will have limited activity and which will be the contractual interface with Lockheed Martin” further details Bernard Delvaux. “This Joint Venture will be capitalized partly by manufacturers and partly by the SFPI”, the financial arm of the Federal government.
Towards an agreement with BAE
The green light from the Federal government, last week, to this mechanism will not yet lead on the signing of a formal contract with the American defense giant. “We are going to have to agree with the British manufacturer BAE, which currently manufactures these control surfaces and which will have to somehow cede part of its activity to us as a subcontractor “, specifies the boss of Sonaca.” Lockheed Martin is committed in this direction, but we still have to sign all the details”.
The company Feronyl, based in Mouscron, for its part announced that it had won a multi-year contract with Lockheed Martin.
Although it will be the largest of its kind, the looming contract for the supply of the F-35’s ailerons may seem low compared to the amount granted by the Belgian Defense ($ 3.8 billion) to buy the American stealth fighter-bomber. “But it opens the door for us to produce other things and to master a technology that can be used. either on military aircraft or on commercial aircraft. As at the time, the Sonaca assembled F-16s, then switched to Airbus programs and manufactured leading edges “insists Bernard Delvaux.
In addition, other contracts should follow. The list of so-called ESI measures (essential security interests) linked to the contract for the F-35 does indeed include other projects. The company Feronyl, based in Mouscron, for its part announced Monday to have won a multi-year contract with Lockheed Martin for the research and development of advanced materials for use on high temperature surfaces. The company will develop a new generation material with potential applications on reactors and hypersonic vehicles.