Tag Archives: Belgian Air Component

Belgium Sea King still rules the waves

Forty years old the Westland Sea King Mk 48 flown by the Belgian Air Component of its armed forces is still very much ruling the waves when it comes down to search and rescue operations.

The already delivered four new NH90 helicopters are not managing well, meaning that the dinosaur Sea Kings are somewhat strange still the most reliable rotary wing for whoever gets lost at sea in front of the Belgian coast – where one of the busiest shipping lanes of the world passes through the English Channel and North Sea.

The Ministry of Defence in Brussels confirmed it has a tremendous amount of difficulties in providing the nation with an adequate air rescue at sea. The Grey Cayman, as the Belgians have nicknamed their new navy NH90s, has too many issues during its operations – including a radar that sometimes doesn’t work.

One of three Sea Kings that will have to soldier on in Belgian SAR service 2019 at least. (Image © Marcel Burger)
One of three Sea Kings that will have to soldier on in Belgian SAR service 2019 at least. (Image © Marcel Burger)

Neighbours help out

The Sea Kings – suffering from their age – already have to soldier on till 2019, four years later than planned. NHIndustries/Airbus needs at least one and a half years more to update and repair all four NH90s delivered for navy tasks – taking about 6 months per aircraft at a time. According to a ministry spokesperson Belgium will ask its European neighbours – the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom – to help out and back up the Sea King. It may still rule the waves, but increased maintenance and lack of spare parts will likely put the Sea King on the ground at times as well, meaning there will be no single dedicated SAR helicopter on Belgian soil available for helping out stranded sea man, unfortunate swimmers and downed pilots.

Crown jewel

Envisaging the coming new kid on the block, Belgium already retired its first Sea King (RS-01) on almost a decade ago, in the 33rd year of its service life. It left the 40 Squadron at homebase Koksijde on 17 December 2008 and has been a crown jewel of the Royal Museum of Army and War History of the nation ever since. Some black pages in its operational history: the crew had to ditch it into the North Sea in April 1981 due to engine problems and in 2005 it was suffering from severe hydraulic problems.

RS-01 was one of five Sea Kings delivered to the Belgian Air Component, sporting a for European waters rather rare ochre yellow and green camo scheme as the machines were originally built by British Westland for the Egyptian armed forces, but that delivery was cancelled in 1975. The Belgian Armed Forces started operations with the Sea King on 1 April 1976. During the years modernisations were implemented to keep the aircraft aloft. They included a protection plate for the engine intake, a FLIR camera and a new all-weather radar.

The camo scheme of the Belgian Sea King is a rare sight in European skies. (Image © Marcel Burger)
The camo scheme of the Belgian Sea King is a rare sight in European skies. (Image © Marcel Burger)

Sixth Sea King

The second Sea King (RS-03) was taken out of service in August 2013, leaving only three machines available. However, even with a sixth Sea King bought in the UK to provide the remaining machines with spare parts, Brussels has said it will be very very complicated to keep the SAR going without the support if its NATO partner nations.

Problems with the NH90 are also bad news for the effectiveness of the Belgian Navy’s frigates. The Navy NH90s were supposed to increase their fighting capabilities, a task never done by the Sea Kings, but the MoD now says the first NH90s are now likely to operate from the combat vessels in 2025 at the earliest.

For those who love the Sea King in its Belgian special colour scheme, there is at least another year or two left to enjoy them above North Sea waves and in European skies.

© 2018 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

Frisian Flag doesn’t mind some Raptors

A knowing smile. During multinational military exercise Frisian Flag at Leeuwarden airbase, that’s all US Air National Guard general Eric Vollmecke has to offer about this week’s surprise deployment of US F-22 Raptors to the UK. This year’s edition of Frisian Flag will have to make do with the Raptor’s predecessor, the F-15C Eagle.

Last year’s participation left US Eagle drivers wanting more. No surprise for the exercise that has earned it’s credits in the world of military air combat. It’s something to be proud of, says airbase commander Denny Traas. And yes, he doesn’t mind playing host to some Raptors at some time in the future.

Whereas terms like coalition, leadership and multinational cooperation are usually the talk of the town during Frisian Flag, this Tuesday it’s Raptors what it’s all about. Sure, Leeuwarden is filled to the brim with advanced warplanes, but none quite so advanced as the F-22s currently in the UK, merely 30 minutes flying time away. Traas: “We are always looking for new aircraft types to bring to Frisian Flag, each with its own capabilities and its own limitations.”

The goal of Frisian Flag is to make participating air crews aware of each aircraft type’s characteristics. That knowledge enables pilots to put together large and mixed formations of military aircraft in an effective way. It turns pilots into leaders and single nations into a partner in today’s multinational military coalitions.

The home team. Dutch F-16s are out in force during the current Frisian Flag, which runs until Friday 22 April. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The home team. Dutch F-16s are out in force during the current Frisian Flag, which runs until Friday 22 April. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Noise

At Leeuwarden, that coalition consists of the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, the US, the UK, Finland and Poland, each sending warplanes to Leeuwarden. Their jet noise shakes the airbase twice each day for two weeks. It’s when the aircraft take off and head to the training areas over the North Sea. The impressive stream of fighter aircraft easily attracts hundreds of aviation enthusiasts – plus as many noise complaints from the neighbouring town.

Once in the training areas, the participants engage threats in the air and on the ground. It offers a welcome change to refresh skills that perhaps are dormant in current live operations over Syria and Iraq, where air-to-air combat is non-exsistent. Base commander Traas: “Frisian Flag fills that gap and results in pilots that are ready for any scenario at any time, with no lead times needed. We train any scenario here at Leeuwarden, not just those modeled after current campaigns.” Given recent events, has a scenario featuring a large scale conflict involving Russia maybe been taking out of the drawer after resting there for two decades? Another knowing but silent smile, from Traas this time.

An F-15C Eagle lights the afterburners. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
An F-15C Eagle lights the afterburners. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Belgian Air Component F-16 follows the above example. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Frisian Flag is about international military cooperation, which is nicely demonstrated by this German Air Force Eurofighter and Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 in the background. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Benefit

Both Finland and Poland would benefit from such a scenario. At the same time, neither country has taken part in recent ops over the Middle East, although Poland ponders to do so. “This is one of the most imporant exercises for us each year, along with the Tiger Meet”, says a Polish Air Force F-16 pilot. Despite not having actual combat experience, the Polish Air Force – celebrating ten years of F-16 operations later this year – bring something valuable to Leeuwarden. Traas: “They are the only ones bringing advanced F-16Cs, just like the Finnish are the only ones bringing F-18 Hornets. Again, the more aircraft types, the better.”

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Hi speed landing, slow speed shutter. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Finnish Hornet pilot checks out the crowd. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A French Air Force Mirage 2000D from Nancy. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Proven Eagle

As far as US Air National Guard pilot David ‘Moon’ Halasi-Kun is concerned, there’s still not much better than the F-15C Eagle behind him. “It is still the most highly capable and proven air superiority fighter in existence. The F-15 with its active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar brings very unique capabilities, just as the F-22 with its stealthiness brings unique capabilities.” Combined, the two deliver air dominance, says ‘Moon’.

Together with 40 or so other Eagle pilots from the Massachusetts and California Air National Guards, ‘Moon’ for the next six months augments US firepower over Europe. Frisian Flag marks the start of the deployment, which should see the aircraft and crew head further into Europe.

According to Leeuwarden base commander Denny Traas, there is a ‘fair chance’ that Frisian Flag will hosts another non-European air force in the future. Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) observers are closely watching the current exercise. Raptors or Australian F-18 Super Hornets in the future? Well, why not have both? Because yes, the more, the better in the air combat household name that now is Frisian Flag.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Video filming, editing and © Vincent Kok – Orange Avenue Filmworks
Featured image (top): A German Eurofighter lands at Leeuwarden. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Focused while landing. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Smokey landing after a tiring mission. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Smokey landing after a tiring mission. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
The participating F-15 Eagles come from both the Massachusetts and California Air National Guards, with the latter shown here. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Germans are regular participants in Frisian Flag. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Noise is an issue at Leeuwarden, and this picture clearly demonstrates why. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Landing at the end of a day’s flying. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

 

Photo Feature: Cold Response 2016

About 15,000 troops, including 2,000 of non-NATO member Sweden, 40 aircraft and helicopters, about a thousand vehicles and several ships and boats are currently kicking a** in Northern and Central Norway. Exercise Cold Response included the taking of the normally peaceful village of Namsos, situated on the shores of beautiful fjords.

The 7th edition of the multinational winter war exercise hosted by Norway brings units from mainly NATO countries together, to show what they can as “bad” and “good” force against each other. To train for a possible real war scenario and to show NATO’s current strange “friend” Russia that the North American-European alliance still can.

The Swedes participating took the run-up to Cold Response very seriously, as you could read earlier here at Airheadsfly.com.

We selected some of the great images of this years edition made by Norwegian defence photographers for you. Have fun!

Featured image (top): From the back seat of a RNoAF F-16BM, closing in on the American B-52. (Image © 331 SQN / Forsvaret)

A F-16 from the Royal Norwegian Air Force taking off from Bodø Main Air Station to escort a USAF B-52 bomber over Namsos. The departure marks the start of the winter exercise Cold Response 2016 (Image © Gard Eirik Seter / Luftforsvaret)
A F-16 from the Royal Norwegian Air Force taking off from Bodø Main Air Station to escort a USAF B-52 bomber over Namsos. The departure marks the start of the winter exercise Cold Response 2016 (Image © Gard Eirik Seter / Luftforsvaret)
A short time later followed by a Belgian Air Component F-16AM (Image © Gard Eirik Seter / Luftforsvaret)
A short time later followed by a Belgian Air Component F-16AM (Image © Gard Eirik Seter / Luftforsvaret)
From the back seat of a RNoAF F-16BM, closing in on the American B-52. (Image © 331 SQN / Forsvaret)
From the back seat of a RNoAF F-16BM, closing in on the American B-52. (Image © 331 SQN / Forsvaret)
Hi Buff! Seen from the back seat of a RNoAF F-16BM (Image © 331 SQN / Forsvaret)
Hi Buff! Seen from the back seat of a RNoAF F-16BM (Image © 331 SQN / Forsvaret)
Once about to be axed due to budget cuts, the Royal Netherlands Air Force deployed Cougars both in the old camo as well as the newer overall grey paint scheme to Cold Response 2016  (Image ©  Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvaret)
Once about to be axed due to budget cuts, the Royal Netherlands Air Force deployed Cougars both in the old camo as well as the newer overall grey paint scheme to Cold Response 2016 (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvaret)
The Marines have landed, or almost, as this Sikorsky CH-53E is about to put some boots on the ground (Image ©  Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvaret)
The Marines have landed, or almost, as this Sikorsky CH-53E is about to put some boots on the ground (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvaret)
And there they are, as a small surprise coming from the USMC Sea Stallion, Royal Netherlands Marines in the Scandinavian snow ... looking fancy and all in their new ski goggles (Image ©  Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvaret)
And there they are, as a small surprise coming from the USMC Sea Stallion, Royal Netherlands Marines in the Scandinavian snow … looking fancy and all in their new ski goggles (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvaret)
And especially for those who like photoshopped blue skies (we don't discuss taste) here are the two Dutch Cougars and US Marines CH-53E navigating through the Norwegian landscape (Image ©  Julie Kristiansen Johansen / Forsvaret)
And especially for those who like photoshopped blue skies (we don’t discuss taste) here are the two Dutch Cougars and US Marines CH-53E navigating through the Norwegian landscape (Image © Julie Kristiansen Johansen / Forsvaret)
The crew of a Royal Norwegian Armed Forces Bell 412 at work (Image © Kristian Kapelrud / Forsvaret)
The crew of a Royal Norwegian Armed Forces Bell 412 at work (Image © Kristian Kapelrud / Forsvaret)
After dropping off Dutch troops, the Royal Netherlands Air Force Cougar takes off (Image © Annette Ask / Forsvaret)
After dropping off Dutch troops, the Royal Netherlands Air Force Cougar takes off (Image © Annette Ask / Forsvaret)
A rather gorgious image of a Swedish HKP 15 (Agusta A109) at sundown (Image © Kristian Kapelrud / Forsvaret)
A rather gorgious image of a Swedish HKP 15 (Agusta A109) at sundown (Image © Kristian Kapelrud / Forsvaret)
Photo flight of the naval battle group steaming impressively forwards (Image © Elias Engevik)
Photo flight of the naval battle group steaming impressively forwards (Image © Elias Engevik)
Norwegian and Beligan F-16s preparing for another mission (Image © Olav Standal Tangen / Forsvaret)
Norwegian and Beligan F-16s preparing for another mission (Image © Olav Standal Tangen / Forsvaret)

Belgium aims for ’34 new fighter jets’

Belgium aims to have 34 new fighter jets in 2030, according to a long term defense strategy made public on Tuesday 22 December.  The statement doesn’t mention the type, however the Lockheed Martin F-35 should be considered the most likely candidate. A decision is still some time away.

Belgium now operates sixty F-16s, all of which are due for replacement. Contenders are the Dassault Rafale, Saab Gripen, Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35. A request for information was issued to all manufacturers in 2014.

Numbers

The number of 34 new jets is lower than anticipated, although Airheadsfly.com already predicted the number would be lower than the larger numbers that were rumoured earlier . These numbers went up to 55 aircraft.

A head on view of the F-35A. (Image © Lockheed Martin)
A head on view of the F-35A. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Joint defense

The choice for the F-35A Lightning II seems only a matter of time in light of the Dutch order for 37 Lightnings and the joint Benelux air defense cooperation that was agreed this year and comes into effect in 2016.

The latest Belgian defense strategy also mentions an inquiry into the deployment of a tanker aircraft, again with no type mentioned. The Belgian could very well join the European tanker effort that is aimed at buying at least four Airbus A330 MRTT aircraft.

The strategy remarkably doesn’t mention the seven Airbus A400Ms on order, the first of which is due in 2018. Doubts were raised in Belgium about the necessity of this airlifters.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: A Belgian Air Component F-16BM. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

 

 

Belgian Vipers withdraw from fight against IS

Belgian Air Component F-16s no longer take part in operations against IS-forces in Iraq. The six fighter aircraft and 120 personnel returned home on 2 July after ending their participation earlier in the week.

The Belgians had been supporting operations from October 2014, flying from an airbase in Jordan along with Dutch F-16s. The latter are continuing their effort, albeit with four aircraft instead of six used earlier.

The Belgians withdrew their aircraft since the government in Brussels did not allocate any more budget to the operation.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (above):  A Belgian Air Component F-16. (Image © Marcel Burger)