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Belgium - Air Force / Composante Air / Luchtcomponent

The Belgian government will choose the American F-35 fighter jet to replace the present F-16 jets, which need to be replaced due to old age. At least, that's according to the Belgian press agency Belga, which cited "various sources within the government". If the decision is confirmed, it meant the end of a very long process. The selection procedure was started in March last year, 19 months ago. The contract is worth 3.5 billion euros, but if the F-35 fighter jets will have a lifespan of 40 years, this amount will reach 15 billion.

The American government proposed the F-35 Lightning II from the Lockheed Martin group. The offer officially ran out, but is said to have been extended with two weeks. Belga's sources said that "the decision has been made and the F-35 comes out on top, but now we are looking for the right way to explain our decision." There was no formal, official confirmation 21 October 2018. Among the other contenders was the Eurofighter Typhoon. Eurofighter is a British-German-Italian group.

Minister of Defense, Steven Vandeput, approved a military programming law by the parliament that provides for investments in modern and efficient defense equipment, announced 28 October 2018. The cost price is more than half a billion less than foreseen in the strategic vision, namely 4.011 billion euros. "Our country receives 34 F-35As, two centers for flight simulations, the equipment and the ICT systems for the operational and technical support of the aircraft on the base and during deployments and the high-tech helmsystems for the pilots. This investment amount also covers, among other things, the costs of the further evolutions of the weapon system and the retraining of pilots and technical personnel.The first new fighter planes are expected by 2023. The Belgian Air Components primary mission is to defend airspace of the country and of the North Atlantic allies. The component should be able to participate in national defence, attack ground targets and carry out air reconnaissance under any conditions in peace as well as in high intensity conflict. In addition, it should be able to provide for transport and deployment of the airmobile expedition unit at the level of battalion in the frst phase of missions abroad.

The air component should be also able to provide capacity for contribution to two independently conducted operations in different regions, made of two F-16 A/B multipurpose combat aircraft units, in maximum total number of 36 machines and 1250 personnel for the period not exceeding four months. For a sustained deployment, the number of aircraft and personnel would require reduced number of aircraft and personnel due to necessary rotation of both systems and personnel.

The Belgian Air Component consists of Command COMOPSAIR, one wing to provide training, two tactical aircraft wings, one transport aviation wing, air group intended for Search and Rescue operations and supporting units. The main technology assets are F-16 A/B multipurpose combat aircraft, C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. In addition to the further listed combat aircraft Belgian air force holds in its reserve 32 aircraft F-16 A/B, 12 Mirage 5BA, 12 Mirage 5BR, 3 Mirage 5BD that are stowed preserved. The air component continues to consist of multi-role combat aircraft and transport airplanes. There is no change in the assignment of 72 mid life updated F-16s to NATO.

Though the current geostrategic environment makes very likely the risk of a major assault against the Alliance, the possibility of such an event in the medium term cannot be totally excluded. The history of the 20th century has enough reminded Belgium. On the other hand, regional security remains subject to a wide variety of military risks and non-military, difficult to predict and which may come from different directions.

The Belgian Air Force played a deterrent role during the Cold War as part of the NATO command in Europe. If the land-based deterrent capability of NATO were to fail, the air force would fight for the defense of the NATO area. Its mission would be to participate in the overall NATO air defensive plan and give air support to the land-based forces.

The air force has three major divisons: the Tactical Air Command, the Training Command, and the Logistics Command. The Tactical Command is responsible for the operational air wings that are assigned to NATO. The majority of flying and technical personnel are volunteers.

In 1984 two all-weather fighter-bomber wings of the air force were equipped with F-16 aircraft, manufactured in part in Belgium. The mixed reconnaissance and fighter-bomber wing was equipped with French-made Mirage 5 aircraft, as was a second fighter-bomber wing. Each of the these four wings consisted of two squadrons. The transport wing was made up of a squadron of C-130H cargo planes and a composite squadron of passenger-type aircraft, including Boeing 727s, Merlin IllAs, and Falcon 20s. The helicopter squadron flew Sea King aircraft on air and sea missions and used large transport helicopters when moving equipment and personnel.

Air force training received consistent praise from NATO, as has its performance in NATO training exercises. The air force also was responsible for maintaining air defense installations in conjunction with NATO. In 1984 six squadrons of surface-to-air Nike Hercules missiles were assigned to the NATO Second Tactical Air Force as the Belgian contribution to aircraft and air defense units shared by the Netherlands, Britain, and West Germany. Budgetary constraints, however, initially led Belgium not to upgrade the air defense system with Patriot missiles. These same constraints also forced a decision to dismantle two of the existing six Nike Hercules batteries in 1984. Belgium remained responsible for the operation of two NATO Air Defense Ground Environment (NADGE) radar stations that regulate civilian as well as military air traffic.

During the Cold War the Belgian Air Force, consisting of 20,000 officers and airmen, operated four tactical air wings (two F-16 and two MIRAGE V), in addition to one C-130 transport wing, a helicopter wing, and a missile wing which manned four NIKE Hercules surface-to-air missile squadrons in the FRG.

The Belgian Air Force, which was not formally established until after the war, grew tremendously with the assimilation of over 220 F-84F and 48 F-104G aircraft, as well as equipment to mobilize 6 squadrons of NIKE missile launchers. By far the largest participant in the 1970s and 1980s in the FMS system waas the Belgian Air Force (BAF) which obtained extensive support for its C-130 squadrons, AIM-9-P3 air -to-air missiles, and a very ambitious pilot training program, including annual participation in U.S. Air Force RED FLAG exercises. Without a doubt, however, the single most important FMS program with Belgium was its purchase (initial and follow-on buys) of 160 F-16 A/B aircraft as part of the original European Participating Government (EPG) consortium which included The Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway.

On Monday, 21 March 2011 at 14h54, four Belgian Air Force F-16s took off on their first mission in operations in Libya, which had received the endorsement of the Government earlier in the day. This first mission has led these aircraft to patrolling over the Mediterranean to the West of Crete. Guided by an AWACS radar aircraft, they enforced the air exclusion zone by searching for intrusions. If the need existed, they had authority to act. No intervention was made at this first release. The planes returned to their base at Araxos in Greece.

The Modernisation Plan 20002015 of The Belgian Armed Forces is based on a strategic reflection called VISION 2015, that was initiated in 1997. The operational characteristics of the new 2015 Force structure will be more readily available, flexible, modular, sustainable, deployable, effective and fully equipped and manned units. The air component will continue to consist of multi-role combat aircraft and transport airplanes. There is no change in the assignment of 72 mid life updated F-16s to NATO. After 2015, the F-16 will be replaced by new combat aircraft. The C-130s will be replaced by more capable A 400-M.

The Belgian Navy's 40th Squadron reached initial operational capability in August 2015 with three new NH90 Nato frigate helicopters (NFH), enhancing the country's search and rescue capabilities. The new helicopters were expected to replace the existing Sea King helicopters in the search and rescue (SAR) role by 2018. The fourth NH90 was expected to be delivered in 2016.

Since March 2018 the Air Component had a complete fleet of NH90 helicopters 'Caiman' NFH ( NATO Frigate Helicopter ). The NFH is the standard on-board helicopter for the navy frigates and the search-and-rescue platform for the Air Component. It was still a while before all crews reach the status FOC ( full operational capability ). Once that has happened, the helicopters can participate in maritime operations. For this it is important that the teams of the four helicopters practice intensively.

The NH90 NFH is invaluable during almost all maritime missions. For example, the NFH can explore a large area around the ship, detect submarines or drop a specialforcing team on a hijacked ship. In addition to his missions on board the frigates, Defense also deploys the helicopter for search and rescue : to trace drownings for our coast. He will eventually replace the famous Sea King for this assignment.

With its extensive on-board equipment, the eleven-tonne NFH is one of the most modern helicopters in its class. It has two powerful motors, an infrared camera, a digital cockpit suitable for the use of night vision equipment, equipment for maritime operations, a special radar and electronic security. The aircraft can even land on a helicopter deck in turbulent waters.

The NFH is the maritime version of the NH90 helicopter Caiman that Belgium ordered in 2007. The Netherlands also flies with the same type, which further benefits the operational cooperation within the Admiralty Benelux (ABNL).




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