Belgian Air Force Chief, Others Suspended in F-16 Scandal
(Source: compiled by Defense-Aerospace.com; posted March 22, 2018)
PARIS --- At least three Belgian generals, including the chief of the air force, and several senior officers were suspended yesterday by Belgian Chief of Defense Marc Compernol as the F-16 scandal continues to widen, to the point it is now referred to in the media as the “F-16-gate.”
The officers are suspected of having hidden from Compernol and Defense Minister Steven Vandeput studies carried out by Lockheed Martin and which concluded that the Belgian air force’s F-16s could remain in service for at least six years longer that their planned 2023 retirement date.
The suspension will last at least until April 20, when an investigation board hurriedly set up yesterday is due to report. The investigation was decided by Prime Minister Charles Michel.
It is also looking increasingly possible that Vandeput will be forced to resign, to take responsibility for the scandal, as he is seen as not controlling his department, and of mismanaging the government’s largest procurement program, which now seems to be premature and unnecessary.
Gen. Compernol issued the following statement on March 21: “As Chief of Defense, and with Defense Minister Steven Vandeput, I met today with several people potentially involved in the non-transmission of the study on metal fatigue. These persons offered to withdraw from their duties for the duration of the investigation. They will remain available for the investigation. The Minister and I have full confidence in the investigation.”
Compernol did not name the suspended officers, but media reports have identified them as Air Force Commander Gen. Frederik Vansina; Gen. Luc Roelants, head of the public procurement section of the defense ministry’s Material Resources agency; and Col Peter Letten, “manager” of the F-16 fleet. Col Harold van Pee, head of Air force procurement, and of the Air Combat Capability Program (ACCaP) which is managing the fighter competition, confirmed to Belga news agency that he had also been suspended.
As chief of the ACCaP office, Van Pee supervises four officers and 33 experts, and reports directly to Vansina. Given that both are now suspended, the ACCaP office’s work is likely to slow down.
It has also been revealed this week that Simon Put, the defense minister’s deputy chief of staff, was hired by Lockheed Martin as a lobbyist.
E-Mails Prove Top Military Figures Manipulated Information About F-16 Replacement
(Source: VTR-NWS; posted March 21, 2018)
(Posted in Dutch; unofficial translation by Defense-Aerospace.com)
There indeed is manipulation in the file regarding the replacement of the F-16s. Various top figures within the armed forces knew that the Belgian aircraft could last longer than expected, and actively blocked this information. Certainly, three generals were involved. This is evident from documents and e-mails that VRT NWS was able to view.
"It is at the very least a serious error of assessment," Defense minister Steven Vandeput (N-VA) said yesterday about the fact that a report on the life extension of the Belgian F-16s had not reached him, and had instead been stopped somewhere in the armed forces. Although he did not use heavier words, such as "manipulation," it now appears that there has indeed been manipulation.
Let’s go back to the summer of 2016: At that time, our source in Defense receives information from the American Lockheed Martin that the F-16s can be kept longer in service, more than the planned 8,000 hours. Our whistleblower wants more detailed figures to be sure.
According to LeVif newspaper, the message was “as long as no-one knows the F-16s can fly more than 8,000 hours, be very careful.”)
When he reports this to his superior, the manager of air force fleet, Colonel Peter Letten, the alarms go off at air force headquarters in Evere air base. Air force commander Fred Vansina directly intervened with the manufacturer. But whistleblower X persists and asks for more detailed information. Immediately, he receives from his superior by e-mail the order to be careful.
From the more detailed information that our whistleblower receives a little later, it appears that the Belgian F-16 fleet can be kept in service for 6 additional years without too much cost. But when these figures are presented to a group of senior officers, the whistleblower gets the following remark from his superior:
“Please do not use the slide with the figures for life extension. It is not the right time. The purchase program is in a crucial phase now. We do not want to disturb this sensitive moment.”
Eventually our whistleblower e-mailed all collected data to two generals and to Colonel Harold Van Pee, the project leader of the replacement program of the F-16s. Our man explicitly asks for everything to be transferred to the chief of staff and the minister. We have since learned that this apparently never happened.
Cover up to the cabinet?
It therefore seems that a cover-up operation has taken place within the Defense organization. In any case, it is not an isolated case of a single soldier who has not passed on information. It concerns senior officers mainly in the air force, at least three generals, several colonels and a major who deliberately held back sensitive information, with the aim of not jeopardizing the purchase program of new fighter planes.
If you consider that everything happened at the time that the previous air force general, Claude Van de Voorde, was the head of cabinet of Minister Vandeput, then you could ask whether this information should have been known to the minister's cabinet. Defense minister Steven Vandeput said yesterday that he himself knew nothing about it.
This is about the people who have determined what should be included in the tender for the new fighter planes and how it will be assessed.
When you see that such mails circulate, who can still believe those people?