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.
Denmark was considered “a waste of time”, but Belgium is a different story. Sweden has decided to join the race for the next-generation multi-role fighter jet for the Belgian Air Component.
The Swedish Defence and Security Export Agency (FXM) confirmed it submitted a background document to the Ministry of Defence of Belgium on 15 December 2014. “In June this year, FXM received a request on joining a feasibility study for the country’s future combat aircraft procurement. FXM accepted. The request applies to the next generation of SAAB Gripen, the Gripen E,” a press release reads.
Interesting detail in the Belgian communication about the current process is that Brussels calls it the Gripen R. Sweden is not the only country in the race. Belgium is also requesting information from France for the Dassault Rafale, from the United Kingdom for the Eurofighter Typhoon and from the United States for the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II and Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) F/A-18 Hornet. Judging the current climate in Belgium we at Airheadsfly.com believe that the finale will be between the F-35, Rafale and Gripen, in that order of choice. Dassault already sent in its papers.
Since 1979, Belgium has been flying the Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) F-16A/M which is due to be fully replaced by 2028. The Belgian Air Component officially has 54 of the F-16s left, but not all of them are operational. With the increased co-operation in a joint air defence with northern neighbour the Netherlands, the F-35 might be a most logic, but also an expensive choice. The Netherlands already buy 37 F-35s to replace their F-16s.
How many new fighters Belgium will buy is not decided yet. The base need is four fighter jets for Quick Reaction Alert, a maximum of 10 fighters deployed in two operations abroad, plus a number of jets for immediate ground support and longer term air defence in case of a threat/conflict at home.
Belgium has quietly sent out Requests for Information (RFI) to five different aircraft manufacturers about a future replacement fighter aircraft for the current but ageing Belgian Air Component’s Lockheed-Martin F-16AM/BM fighters.
The Ministry of Defence has asked for more info on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault’s Rafale, Saab’s Gripen and the Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon, according to sources in Belgian media.
The first of 160 Belgian F-16s entered service on 29 January 1979. Over the years, the number of F-16s in use was reduced to 72, with a further reduction to 60 scheduled for 2015. The type is to remain flying with Belgian Air Component until 2023.