The Belgian government has started a survey process to pave the way for a program to replace the country’s F-16 fighter fleet.

The Air Combat Capability Successor Program Preparation Survey document, published on Jan. 8, follows on from a survey last June sent to the government agencies requesting information from the five perceived successors: Lockheed Martin’s F-35, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault’s Rafale and the Saab Gripen.

Over 25 pages, the new document outlines what Belgium wants to get out of its new fighter, assessing the operational capabilities, technical and logistical aspects as well as the costs and risks. With that information, the Belgian defense ministry will then be able to ask the government for approval to start the F-16 successor program.

Belgium believes its F-16s will reach the end of their operational lives in the mid- to late 2020s. So it wants to embark on a program that will start to deliver aircraft by the end of 2022, with full operational capability achieved by 2029.

The document places considerable emphasis on the need for a partner or partnership for the program to succeed, pointing to the success the country has had with its F-16 purchase along with other European NATO members.

"Taking into account the complexity of and the long term … the Belgian Defense is convinced that the only way for this multidimensional and overarching program to succeed is to rely on a credible partner(ship) being able to cover all domains," the document says. But it adds that such a partnership would be limited to EU or NATO member states.

Belgium wants to continue its track record of successful support of NATO and international operations with its future fighter fleet. Even now, Belgium has aircraft deployed in Jordan to support the U.S. led-coalition against Islamic State fighters in Iraq. Belgium wants to be able to deploy as many as 10 fighters for a sustained period of undetermined duration, or "execute a one-time participation in a multinational operation with a maximum engagement of 30 aircraft." But officials insist that the number of aircraft for this kind of operation should not hint at the number that Belgium wishes to purchase. They add that "the current level of ambition will be used as a baseline."

Belgium wants to use its new fighters for a range of missions, including defensive and offensive counter-air, air interdiction and close air support as well as emerging missions, or what the Brussels calls Non-Traditional Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. Those include the use of targeting pods for target acquisition, and strike coordination and reconnaissance.

With the survey complete in the coming weeks, Brussels hopes to enter a program phase, with the aim of entering a procurement phase in early 2016. Next would be achieving program approval in early 2018, paving the way for a future fighter to be ordered.