January 19, 2018 / 9:50 PM / 8 months ago

UPDATE 2-U.S. approves possible sale of F-35 jets to Belgium for $6.5 bln

(Adds detail on Belgium's potential purchase, other possible buyers)

WASHINGTON, Jan 19 (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department on Friday said it has approved the possible sale of 34 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 jets to Belgium for $6.53 billion, a potential new customer for the No. 1 U.S. defense contractor's most important product.

The proposed sale would include 34 conventional takeoff F-35s as well as 38 Pratt & Whitney F-135 engines and other equipment for the radar-evading high-tech fighter, the Pentagon said.

"This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of an ally and partner nation which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political and economic stability in Western Europe," the State Department said in a statement.

The governments of Finland, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and others have also been eyeing a purchase of the stealthy jet as potential new customers.

Belgium is still in the midst of an ongoing competition for a new jet fighter. The announcement clears the potential purchase of the jets by the Belgian government. If Belgium elects to buy the F-35, it would become the fourth foreign military sales customer for the F-35 following South Korea in 2014.

The F-35 is a vital product for Lockheed, accounting for about a quarter of its total revenue. During the third quarter, sales at Lockheed's aeronautics business increased 14 percent to $4.7 billion, pulled higher by F-35 sales. (Reporting by David Alexander and Chris Sanders; Editing by Eric Walsh and Rosalba O'Brien)

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