The government has made an important decision to replace the F-16s. On the recommendation of the Minister of Defense Steven Vandeput, it was agreed to launch an acquisition program.
34 aircraft: fewer aircraft, same level of ambition
The 54 F-16s now in service will be replaced by 34 new multi-role combat aircraft. This number guarantees the level of ambition mentioned in the Strategic Vision for Defence, namely: on a permanent basis, six combat aircraft are available for operations and two more to protect our air space (Quick Reaction Alert).
Fewer aircraft are needed than before because the new generation of aircraft can fly more and there can be more training on simulators.
An intergovernmental agreement
Defense aims to conclude an intergovernmental agreement that will include the purchase of aircraft to replace the current F-16 air combat capability and to support the operation of this new capability until the end of 2030.
Why replace now: End of life and evolution of the weapon system
The current F-16 air combat capability has a limit of 8,000 flight hours per airplane and will thus gradually reach its end of life over the period 2023-2028. In order to be able to have multi-role air combat capability and taking into account the preparation and delivery times required for such an acquisition, the decision as to the new aircraft must be taken in the course of 2018.
Monitoring of the F-16 system is currently being carried out jointly under the Multinational Fighter Program (MNFP), comprising the United States and the majority of European users of the F-16 A/B MLU. Given that several MNFP partner nations have already selected the successor of their F-16s, the gradual phasing out of this cooperation is inevitable.
Apart from the aforementioned technical limit, the gradual disappearance of this cooperative program will make the maintenance and the technical and operational support of the Belgian F-16 fleet increasingly complicated and costly, which will inevitably affect its level of operational availability, and therefore the relevance of the Belgian F-16 air combat capability when it is deployed on operations.
History of the project
In order to prepare for the replacement of F-16 air combat capability, the Defense Staff initiated the first steps towards a replacement program at the end of 2012.
On 2 June 2014, a survey was initiated by sending a document called the Preparation Survey to five government agencies, representing NATO and / or EU member countries, likely (for the planned delivery period) to be able to offer Belgium a long-term partnership including the delivery of new combat aircraft. The aim of this survey was to collect information in order to prepare specifications.
These government agencies, the country they represent and the combat aircraft they offer, are the following:
-- DGA (Directorate General of Armaments), France (Dassault Rafale)
-- FMV (Swedish Defense Material Administration), Sweden (Saab Gripen E)
-- JPO (Joint Program Office), United States (Lockheed-Martin F-35A)
-- UK MOD (UK Ministry of Defense), United Kingdom (Eurofighter Typhoon)
-- USN PMA 265 (US Navy Program Manager Air 265), United States (Boeing F-18 E / F)
On October 9, 2014, a Government Agreement expressed its intention to "take a decision that will allow Belgium to maintain an air combat and attack capability for the life of the current F-16."
On 27 November 2014, an Air Combat Capability Successor Program Office was established within the Defense Staff and its mandate was approved by the Chief of Defense.
On 22 December 2015, the restricted Council of Ministers decided that several major investment projects, including the replacement of the current F-16 capacity by 34 combat aircraft, would be launched in the short term.
On June 29, 2016, the Council of Ministers approved a preamble concerning the future of defense and took note of the strategic vision that called for the acquisition of 34 new combat aircraft to provide air combat capability for the future has been confirmed.
On 20 October 2016, the Council of Ministers approved the preliminary draft law on the military investment program for the period 2016-2030 in which this program is to be included.
On 28 October 2016, the Council of Ministers approved the document 'Belgian interests in the field of defense and security policy', which sets out the essential security interests to be taken into account when Article 346 (1) (b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
The Parliamentary Committee for National Defense was informed on two occasions (7 January 2015 and 24 February 2016) by the program cell responsible for the replacement file. The last session aimed specifically at presenting the results of the survey.
On 8 March 2017, the Army's purchasing and sales commission issued a positive opinion for the continuation of the procedure.
With the issuance of the RfGP (Request for Government Proposal) begins the next phase in the replacement phase. After receiving and evaluating the proposals, Defense will make a reasoned recommendation to the government.
Quote by Minister of Defense Steven Vandeput
"The government has made the courageous decision to renew our air combat capability and to replace the F-16s fleet, and with this capability we are making an important contribution to NATO's collective defense. Choosing to maintain this capability means remaining a reliable partner of the alliance."
''For full transparency, the Request for Government Proposal will be published in full. It goes without saying that we cannot release it until all the government agencies that will compete for the contract have received the document."