Current Market Trends
Subsector Focus: Helicoptors
Population: 1.1 million
GDP USD: USD 506.5 billion
Language: French, Dutch and German
Belgium’s Aerospace Market is a blend of civil and military. The Belgian Ministry of Defense, now some distance from the great recession, is preparing to purchase additional equipment. Its F-16s are soon to be replaced with a new, next generation aircraft. Belgium’s vibrant aerospace industry, serving both the military and civilian markets, is looking for new technologies, such as composites and manufacturing technologies that will help it maintain their edge.
The Belgian defense industry is fully privatized and centered on the manufacturing of components, subassemblies and small arms rather than full weapon systems and platforms. As a small nation, Belgium cannot maintain a large defense industry based on internal requirements. Instead, the Belgian defense industry relies on the export of components and subcontractor work on major defense programs. Procurement methods and procedures for the Belgian Ministry of Defense (MOD) are similar to those used the U.S. Department of Defense. There is a central procurement office for high value items. Belgium is also the site for NATO headquarters and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), both of which offer significant procurement opportunities for large and small U.S. companies.
Belgium’s defense force has an air, sea and land component in addition to a medical branch. As the defense force is small, it often cooperates with the Netherlands and Luxembourg both when procuring high-dollar equipment and operationally/exercises. Belgian defense’s area of expertise is demining, with an emphasis on sea.
When selling to Belgium, many U.S. SMEs opt to work with a defense consultant. There are a handful of Belgian defense consultants that have segmented the market vertically. These consultants have a gentleman’s agreement whereby they respect each other’s market segment. The in-country Commercial Section maintains good contacts with these Belgian defense consultants.
Most of the consultants are retired military. They maintain good contacts within the Belgian defense establishment and will often work with the relevant officer drawing up the procurement specifications. When the RFP is released, the consultant will cut all formal and informal ties with the Belgian MoD and advise the company they represent on how to enter a successful and competitive bid. This is a common practice in Belgium.
Belgian defense consultants are typically compensated by a commission - the percentage varying depending on the size of the contract. However, for larger contracts that take several years to see through, a retainer may be negotiated. Larger companies should also consider setting up an EMEA office in Belgium. Many large U.S. defense companies have elected to do so, due to Belgium hosting several EU and NATO institutions and the EDA (European Defense Association). Locating in Belgium gives better access to these institutions.
U.S. companies seeking to sell military equipment to Belgium are advised to start with the Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) and the U.S. Commercial Service. Together, these offices are well versed in the Belgian military environment and procurement procedures.
Current Market Trends
Belgium’s soldiers, as elsewhere around Europe, are aging, with the average soldier being 43 years old. Furthermore, due to the recession, Belgium’s defense structure has been shrinking down to 32,000 people from 40,000 in 2006. This has limited the deployability of Belgium’s defense forces and kept Belgium’s presence in Afghanistan and Lebanon to 500 people.
Belgium, streamlining its forces, no longer has a separate army, navy and air force but rather has a unified defence entity with a land, sea and air component served by a joint medical component. Belgium is specialized in demining and continues to cooperate on various levels with the Dutch defense, particularly with regards to naval power.
Belgium is also developing a “BEST” soldier or future soldier program integrating the latest technologies. This includes improved and smart textiles; enhanced, integrated and scalable communication; personal optics and global positioning. For more information on Belgium’s BEST soldier, please visit www.mil.be.
In addition to FN Herstal, the well-known Belgian small arms manufacturer, Belgium has a vibrant aerospace and defense industry, with many SMEs producing components for various aircraft and offering various MRO services. The companies are highly competitive and, in view of the current high energy and labor costs, are often looking for new cutting-edge technologies to maintain their competitive edge. They focus on advanced, small-batch production capabilities in both metallurgy and composite materials.
A listing of all the major competitors is available on the Flemish and Walloon Aerospace and Defense Associations website.
The following are notable companies: BARCO, ASCO, SABCA, SABENA Technics, UTC, Sonaca, and FN Herstal. Many of the above companies produce Aerospace components, assemblies, sub-assemblies and provide MRO services. Historically the technology transfer related to Belgium’s F16 purchase has bolstered this segment of the industry.
Belgian defence procurement remains modest, even for a country of its size. However, as mentioned above, Belgium has a fairly vibrant aerospace and defence industry particularly in terms of advanced product engineering and manufacturing. There are three trade associations, Agoria, Skywin (French-speaking) and FLAG Flanders Aerospace Group, Dutch-Speaking) that encompass and represent most of Belgium’s Aerospace and Defence sectors. The latter two, Skwywin and FLAG have an aerospace slant to them. American companies interested in the Belgian market should consider supplying the industry with cutting edge technologies giving an edge over competition. Sectors include software, display, CNC and composite sub-component manufacturing,
Subsector Focus: Helicopters
Belgium currently has twenty Agusta A-109s and three Sikorsky Sea Kings. Aging, they are slated to be replaced by 2018 with NH-90s. Belgium’s vibrant Aerospace industry hosts, per capita, a high number of specialized engineering and manufacturing companies. Many of these parts and services are services are destined for the helicopter industry and supply manufacturers worldwide including Agusta, Eurocopter, Bell Helicopters (Textron) and Sikorsky (UTC).
For a briefing on defense related business in Belgium and current political issues, we urge all U.S. suppliers of defense equipment and services to contact the U.S. Embassy in Belgium, in particular the ODC and U.S. Commercial Service offices, prior to contacting any Belgian government agency.
While Belgian industry remains relatively free of government control, there is influence exerted by both the Belgian parliament and the regional governments of Flanders and Wallonia. Suppliers of defense related products, equipment and services should remain well aware of Belgian procurement plans well before the publication of the actual RFQ’s: changes in technical requirements or any alteration of the RFQ becomes impossible once the RFQ is published. Non-compliance can lead to administrative elimination from competition. Therefore, the importance of local representation cannot be understated.
Recent EU legislation indirectly forbids offsets. However, it is clear that restriction has simply caused them to be relabeled as “industrial sharing,” though the term “offset” is still openly used. The prohibition has made the aerospace and defense business in Belgium much more opaque. In the past, the ministry of economic affairs, once the gatekeeper to the Belgian market, required 100% offset explicitly engineered into all relevant bids. Currently it appears that Belgium still expects industrial sharing (offsets) however, how this is to be conveyed or negotiated and to what percentage remains unclear.
NATO Information Assurance Symposium (NIAS)
September 16-18 • Mons/Bergen, Belgium • www.nias2014.com
This year the NATO Information Assurance Symposium will focus on the threats and security issues that NATO will face in the era of cloud computing.
Flemish Aerospace Group (FLAG): www.flag.be
An association of aerospace companies located in Flanders/Belgium. Approximately 70 members, active in mostly aeronautical sectors. Capabilities range from concept, design, and certification to manufacturing and customer support, as well as training and exploitation.
Skywin Walonia: www.skywin.be
A group of companies, training centers, and research units engaged in public and private partnership around common and innovative projects. Skywin’s objective is the creation of jobs in Walloon Aerospace companies. Skywin Wallonia represents
U.S. Commercial Service Contact Information:
Mr. Ira Bel
Senior Commercial Specialist
+32 (0)2 811 5116
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