*BRUSSELS - Belgium said Thursday it had chosen to buy US-made F-35 stealth warplanes over the Eurofighter Typhoon, which critics call a blow to the EU´s bid to build its own defences.*
In a multi-billion-euro deal with Lockheed Martin, the Belgian government said it would buy 34 radar-evading F-35s to replace its ageing US-made F-16s, from 2023.
Critics called the decision "very bad news" for a more autonomous EU defence strategy, which got a boost after Brexit and US President Donald Trump´s election.
Lockheed Martin said it looked forward to ties with "the Belgian government and industry for decades to come," according to a statement on its Twitter feed.
Belgian Prime Minsiter Charles Michel sought to head off his critics when he said Belgium was looking to both Europe and the United States to meet its defence needs.
Belgium is also buying drones, frigates, minesweepers and armoured vehicles "within the framework of NATO and European defence," Michel told a news conference.
"The planes and drones are American, the other equipment is European and Belgium will enjoy the economic benefits," Michel added,
Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said the US offer "was the best from the price and operational standpoint."
The F-35 ran against a bid from the Eurofighter, developed by a European consortium that also comprises Italy´s Finmeccanica and Airbus.
Jean-Dominique Giuliani, who heads the Robert Schuman Foundation, a European think-tank, lamented the decision.
"It´s not a European choice. It´s worse than a slap, it is dreadful for European defence," Giuliani told AFP. "It is very bad news."
The F-35 requires a whole maintenance and operational system that depends "on the control of the United States," he added. - APP/AFP