Exclusive: Belgium considers Lockheed F-35 to replace F-16s - source

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. government officials have briefed the Belgian government about the capabilities of the Lockheed Martin Corp <LMT.N> F-35 fighter jet, as Brussels prepares to replace its aging fleet of 60 F-16s, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The source, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said Belgium was considering buying 35 to 55 of the new radar-evading F-35 jets. No decisions are expected until late 2014 at the earliest.

Belgium was one of the original NATO partners to buy the F-16 fighter jet, also built by Lockheed; but unlike Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, it did not join the international consortium that funded development of the F-35.

U.S. government officials have visited Belgium to discuss the F-35, which is being built to replace the F-16 and a dozen other warplanes in use around the world, according to the source.

Neither Lockheed nor a spokesman for the Pentagon's F-35 program office had any immediate comment.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa, editing by Ros Krasny and Gerald E. McCormick)