The fall of the Berlin wall and its political consequences saw the Belgian Air Force, as all NATO forces, going through a major restructuring and reorganisation process. Manpower is to be cut down from 20.000 in 1990 to a estimated 10.000 in 1997. Bases such as Brustem and Goetsenhoven are to be closed, their pilot training units being regrouped at Beauvechain and the disbandmend of the 3rd Wing on 22 December 1993 saw Bierset air base being transferred to the Light Aviation unit of the Army. Beauvechain's famous no. 349 fighter squadron and the F-16 OCU were transferred to Kleine Brogel's 10th Wing, while no. 350 fighter squadron moved to Florennes air base to join the 2nd Wing. The total number of F-16s was reduced to 90 from the original 160, 72 of which are assigned to NATO.
In its restructured form the main task of the Belgian Air Force is "the protection of vital interests and the participation in the collective defence within Europe". This of course in the framework of NATO and the Western European Union. Besides this task the Belgian Armed Forces are also called on to participate in missions to maintain peace within the mandate of international organisations and to give the Belgian Government the tools to provide humanitarian aid all over the world.
In order to accomplish these tasks the Belgian Air Force is currently adapting its equipment to the highest standards and most up-to-date levels of technology such as :
* Fighter aircraft.
-The F-16 Midlife Update (MLU) programme is in full swing with the prototypes undergoing testing. The MLU adds in an ergonomically improved cockpit a Digital Terrain System (DTS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) as well as an improved and more powerful on-board computer giving the F-16 a real Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air-air capacity. For the moment only 48 aircraft are approved to receive this update, but it is the Air Force's firm aim to have the 42 remaining aircraft also modernised.
-The Pratt & Whitney PW-220E has been chosen as the new standard engine for the F-16.
-The complete F-16 fleet is in the process of being equipped with the internal passive ECM-system Carapace and to complement these a number of ALQ-131 ECM jammers have recently been bought.
-Further away in the future, the Fighting Falcons will be equipped with AMRAAM air-air missiles and AGM-65 Maverick electro-optical air-ground missiles.
-To regain the reconnaissance potential lost with the facing out of the Mirage 5BR, the Air Force will buy 8 Danish build Per Udsen recce-pods and modify 16 aircraft providing the necessary wiring to use them.
* Tactical transport
-All C-130 Hercules transports went through a wing strengthening programme extending their operational potential beyond the year 2010. In a second step all the aircraft received a new glass cockpit through the Sabena Technics developed Avionics Upgrade Programme (AUP). Protection will be improved by adding Apollo4 ECM and cockpit armour-plating.
* Search and Rescue
-The Seaking helicopters all have received a new and more powerful search radar, GPS and provisions to carry a FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) pod to improve night and adverse weather vision.
The recent dynamic (modern manager type) heads of the Belgian Air Force, have been able to efficiently guide their service through consecutive budget-cuts and restructuring efforts and have reorganised the Belgian Air Force into a smaller but more potent and mobile force consisting of units that can deploy in a very flexible way to respond to a very diverse range of assignments.
Last Updated : 06/11/11 16:13 Daniel Brackx