“The current 54 F-16 fighters will be replaced by 34 new multi-role aircraft,” the ministry of defence said, arguing that because of technical advances, fewer planes would be needed to meet the same mission.
The cost of the 34 aircraft is put at 3.6 billion euros ($3.85 billion), with another 1.2 billion euros to cover training and maintenance, ministry spokesman Laurence Mortier told AFP.
Over the planes anticipated 40-year lifespan, the total cost could come to around 15 billion euros, Mortier said.
The ministry said the supplier would likely be named in 2018 but the government had shortlisted five manufacturers in NATO or European Union member states.
The likely favourite is America’s Lockheed-Martin fifth generation stealth fighter, the F-35, which many US allies are acquiring but which has come in for harsh criticism as being too expensive and failing to meet project targets on time.
Meanwhile US aerospace giant Boeing is offering a new, much upgraded version of the F-18 Hornet, the main strike jet for the US Navy.
The other three contenders are the Rafale of French manufacturer Dassault, the Typhoon built by the British-led Eurofighter consortium and Sweden’s Saab Gripen E.
When Belgium acquired its F-16 fighters in the 1970s, it joined forces with the neighbouring Netherlands, plus Denmark and Norway, all of which have opted for the F-35.