Spanish Eurofighter Typhoons and Belgian Lockheed Martin F-16s this week take over NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from Hungarian Saab Gripens and German Typhoons respectively. Spain is acting as ‘lead’ nation.
Four Spanish Typhoons left their homebase of Albacate on Monday 4 January and headed for Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania. From there, Hungarian Gripens over the last three months performed 25 live intercepts of mainly Russian aircraft near the Baltics. The Hungarians clocked up 430 flying hours in total. Airheadsfly.com reported about Baltic Air Policing in Šiauliai last November, spectacular pics included.
Four Belgian F-16s- two from both Kleine Brogel airbase and Florennes airbase – are due at Ämari airbase in Estonia, previously a temporary home to German Typhoons.
The changeover ceremony for the total Baltic Air Policing mission is scheduled for Thursday 7 January. The changeover marks the 40th rotation for the mission, which in 2014 was doubled in size over increased Russian air activity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Netherlands is reducing its airborne effort in fighting the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) forces in Iraq. According to sources in The Hague the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) will start sending its F-16s home from the operations base in Jordan.
Due to the increasing need for maintenance, costs and worries about the combat capability (read: lack of training for other missions) continuation of the entire RNLAF contribution to the international military effort to fight ISIS was in doubt.
The military and political leadership of the Netherlands now opt to reduce the number of F-16s dispatched to Jordan from the current six to four, plus two fighter jets in reserve. Plans call to keep the mission going until the end of June 2016 and there seems to be a majority in the Dutch parliament supporting the decision.
Belgian Air Component
There are still Dutch hopes for a rotating deployment in cooperation with Belgium. The Belgian Air Component currently flies six F-16s separately from the same base in Jordan as the RNLAF does, but Brussels says there is no money left to continue the mission after June.
But the Dutch decision that will be made public on Friday might influence the Belgians to reconsider sending a quartet of F-16s (plus two reserve) in October for a 3 month deployment, to be taken over by the RNLAF again in January 2016. High-level talks on this matter have already been done prior to the decision making.
The Belgian Air Component’s three Agusta A109 utility, armed scout and armed escort helicopters are wrapping up their bilateral exercise with the Czech armed forces on 10 April 2015. Exercise South Plains saw action of the rotary wing and ground forces of both countries from the beginning of April. Base of operations: Námest in the Czech Republic.
Beauvechain Air Base is normally the home for the A109s, but not for three lucky ones and their crew that were involved in a ten-day exercise in the Czech Republic. They were engaged in night flying missions, low altitude flying, close air support, and training for joint missions (COMAO – Composite Air Operation). The helicopters stayed mainly close to Námest, but used the Libava Military Training Area for live air-to-ground firing practices.
The Belgians were welcomed in style, landing in quite snowy conditions on the 1 April. Námest is home to the Czech Air Force’s 22 Wing (22.Základna Vrtulníkového Letectva (22.zL)), operating the Mil Mi-24V and Mi-35 “Hind” attack helicopters, as well as the Mil Mi-171Sh “Hip” assault/transport choppers.
The next exercise involving both Belgian and Czech helicopter units is planned for May this year during the Tactical Helicopter Procedures Update which will take place at the Belgian Beauvechain Base, then again in June in Italy during the Italian Blade Exercise, followed by the Trident Juncture Exercise in Spain in September.