Belgian Air Component
   HOME

TheInfoList



The Belgian Air Component ( nl, Luchtcomponent, french: Composante air) is the air arm of the
Belgian Armed Forces french: La Défense belgegerman: Belgische Streitkräfte , image = Coats of arms of Belgium Military Forces.svg , alt = , caption = Emblem of the Belgian Armed Forces , image2 = , alt2 ...
, and until January 2002 it was officially known as the Belgian Air Force ( nl, Belgische Luchtmacht; french: Force aérienne belge). The Belgian military aviation was founded in 1909 and is one of the world's oldest air services. The commander is
Major General Major general (abbreviated MG, maj. gen. and similar) is a military rank Military ranks are a system of hierarchical relationships in armed forces A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organize ...
Thierry Dupont, appointed on 17 September 2020.


History


Foundation and early years

The Belgian military aviation was founded in 1909 as a branch of the Belgian Army, carrying the name ''Compagnie des Ouvriers et Aérostiers''. King Albert's interest in the military use of aircraft was the main impetus for its formation. Coincidentally, in the civil aviation sector,
Baron Baron is a rank of nobility Nobility is a social class normally ranked immediately below Royal family, royalty and found in some societies that have a formal aristocracy (class), aristocracy. Nobility has often been an Estates of the ...
Pierre de Caters Baron Pierre de Caters (Berchem Berchem () is a southern Districts of Antwerp, district of the municipality and city of Antwerp in the Flemish Region of Belgium. Berchem is located along the old ''Grote Steenweg'' (Dutch language, Dutch for 'Big ...
earned the first civil pilot's brevet that same year. Caters would promptly establish an aviation school. At approximately the same time, the War Ministry followed the French military's example and had pilots earn a civil pilot's brevet before their military one. In 1910, three Belgian lieutenants earned their pilot's brevets at the school, paying their own fees. Two of the artillery lieutenants were Baudouin Montens d'Oosterwyck, who earned Brevet No. 19 on 30 September, and Alfred Sarteel, granted No. 23 on 10 November. The third lieutenant, Georges Nelis, was the new force's first aviation candidate, gaining Brevet No. 28 on 21 December. An aircraft was personally purchased for him. In spring of 1911, the new air force established its military aviation school with five pilots, two mechanics, and a woodworker. It received its first aircraft via Baron Caters, who gave the aircraft to King Albert, who in turn presented it to the school. On 12 September 1912, pilot Lieutenant Nelis and observer ''Sous Lieutenant'' Stellingwerff were the first Europeans to fire a machine gun from an aircraft; while Nelis brought the aircraft low, Stellingwerff put some bullets through a sheet staked out on the ground. They were disciplined for their efforts. Nelis then accompanied ''Capitaine Commandant'' Émile Mathieu to England during November 1913 to demonstrate aerial use of the
Lewis machine gun The Lewis gun (or Lewis automatic machine gun or Lewis automatic rifle) is a World War I, First World War–era light machine gun. Designed privately in America but not adopted, the design was finalised and mass-produced in the United Kingdom, an ...
at
Hendon Hendon is an urban area in the London Borough of Barnet, Borough of Barnet, North-West London northwest of Charing Cross. Hendon was an ancient Manorialism, manor and parish in the county of Middlesex and a former borough, the Municipal Borough ...

Hendon
and
Aldershot Aldershot () is a town in the Rushmoor district of Hampshire, England. It lies on heathland in the extreme northeast corner of the county, about southwest of London. The area is administered by Rushmoor Borough Council. The town has a populati ...
; as a result, the British adopted the Lewis, although the Belgians did not. Belgium entered World War I with aircraft tasked solely for reconnaissance missions.


World War I

By the time of Belgium's entry into the First World War on 4 August 1914, the military aviation branch, now called the ''Aviation Militaire Belge'' (''Belgische militaire luchtvaart''), consisted of four squadrons, each consisting of four 80-horsepower
Farman Farman Aviation Works (french: Avions Farman) was a French aircraft An aircraft is a vehicle or machine that is able to fly Flies are insect Insects or Insecta (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging t ...
aircraft, although ''Escadrilles'' III and IV were still forming. A truck was assigned to each squadron, along with a fifth truck serving as a mobile workshop. Each squadron had a commander, five pilots, and six observers, with all officers seconded from parent units. As a result, most of the new aviators were from the Engineers and Artillery components of the Belgian armed forces. As the war began, a fifth squadron was created, staffed with civilian pilots called to the colors and equipped with Bleriots. ''Sous Lieutenant'' Henri Crombez flew one of the first war patrols, in a Deperdussin racer on 4 August 1914 above Liège. Adjutant Behaeghe was the first to engage an enemy, a few days later. On 26 September, the Belgian air crew of ''Sous Lieutenant'' de Petrowski and Sergeant Benselin mortally wounded a German pilot with a rifle bullet and forced his
Taube
Taube
to land at
Sint-Agatha-Berchem Berchem-Sainte-Agathe (French language, French, ) or Sint-Agatha-Berchem (Dutch language, Dutch, ) is one of the List of municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region, 19 municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region, Belgium. Located in the no ...
; if they had submitted a claim for this victory, its approval would have marked history's first air-to-air combat victory. On 3 January 1915, two machine guns supplied by British were fitted to two Belgian aircraft, making a dual effort against the foe possible; these were Belgium's first dedicated fighter planes. In February, thirteen of the Belgian airmen flew 28 offensive patrols; their first dogfight was fought on the 26th, with ten Albatroses against three Belgian Farmans. On 26 March, ''Sous Lieutenant'' Boschmans sent a German two-seater into a steep dive when he seemed to hit the pilot; the German was not seen to either crash or land. This was the Belgian aviators' first victory claim. In April, Lieutenant
Fernand Jacquet Captain-Commandant Fernand Maximillian Leon Jacquet was a World War I flying ace credited with seven aerial victories. He was the first Belgian pilot to score an aerial victory, on 17 April 1915, and became the first Belgian ace on 1 February 1917. ...

Fernand Jacquet
mounted a machine gun on his pusher aircraft and sought out the enemy. On the 17th, he and his observer (Lieutenant Henri Vindevoghel) scored Belgium's first confirmed aerial victory, sending an Albatros reconnaissance aircraft down in flames over
Roeselare Roeselare (, french: Roulers, West Flemish West Flemish (''West-Vlams'' or ''West-Vloams'' or ''Vlaemsch'' (in French-Flanders), nl, West-Vlaams, french: flamand occidental) is a West Germanic language spoken in western Belgium and the neig ...

Roeselare
. Apparently at about the same time, Adjutant José Orta and ''Sous Lieutenant'' Louis de Burlet were the first to attack an enemy
observation balloon An observation balloon is a type of balloon that is employed as an aerial platform for intelligence gathering and artillery spotting. Use of observation balloons began during the French Revolutionary Wars The French Revolutionary Wars (frenc ...
when they dropped three small bombs on a gasbag over
Houthulst Houthulst () (West Flemish West Flemish (''West-Vlams'' or ''West-Vloams'' or ''Vlaemsch'' (in French-Flanders), nl, West-Vlaams, french: flamand occidental) is a West Germanic language spoken in western Belgium and the neighboring areas of Fra ...
, however they either did not hit, or failed to explode. On 18 January 1916, the decision was made to form a dedicated fighter squadron. On 22 February 1916, Escadrille I became the '' 1ère Escadrille de Chasse''. It consisted of newly supplied
Nieuport 10 The Nieuport 10 (or Nieuport XB in contemporary sources) was a French First World War World War I or the First World War, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11&nb ...

Nieuport 10
s and one obsolete Farman two-seater. In August, the new squadron would upgrade to
Nieuport 11 The Nieuport 11 (or Nieuport XI C.1 in contemporary sources), nicknamed the ''Bébé'', was a French World War I World War I or the First World War, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted fro ...
s, and ''Escadrille V'' was turned into the ''5ème Escadrille de Chasse''. The new unit was the first to mount an offensive formation for the new air force; on 15 February 1917, they flew an offensive patrol of seven. By this time, the AMB had grown to 44 aircraft, including 21 fighters. At this point, individual aircraft bore personal markings affixed by their pilots, but no unit designations. In the summer of 1917, the AMB was allotted an active role in Allied aviation operations at the beginning of the
Third Battle of Ypres The Third Battle of Ypres (german: Dritte Flandernschlacht; french: Troisième Bataille des Flandres; nl, Derde Slag om Ieper), also known as the Battle of Passchendaele (), was a campaign of the First World War World War I, often abb ...
. In March 1918, the AMB matured into a ''
Groupe de Chasse ''Groupe de Chasse'' or ''groupe de chasse'' (usually abbreviated as GC) is the French language French ( or ) is a Romance languages, Romance language of the Indo-European languages, Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Lati ...
''. At this time, the role of the ''Escadrilles de Chasse'' was finally focused on their operation strictly as fighter units. There was a sorting out of pilots into fighter or reconnaissance roles. Not all fighter pilots went into the new fighter units; as of 1 May, 22 remained with reconnaissance units to fly escort missions. The King insisted that Jacquet be given the command of the Group. The newly organized fighter wing contained the two fighter escadrilles; however, ''1ère Escadrille de Chasse'' became ''9ème Escadrille de Chasse'', and ''5ème Escadrille de Chasse'' became ''10ème Escadrille de Chasse''. The ''11ème Escadrille de Chasse'' was founded on 28 May to join them. By the start of the Allies final offensive in September 1918, the AMB was incorporated in the Allied aviation effort, and could send 40-plus aircraft into the air at one time. In its short span of service, the Groupe fought over 700 aerial combats and was credited with 71 confirmed and 50 probable victories.


Aircraft procurement difficulties

In June 1916 the nascent air force had received newer aircraft from the French in both single and double-seat versions of the
Nieuport 10 The Nieuport 10 (or Nieuport XB in contemporary sources) was a French First World War World War I or the First World War, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11&nb ...

Nieuport 10
. The Belgians would continue to upgrade their aircraft throughout the war, though through their dependence on French manufacturers they became the stepchildren of the Allied effort from 1916 onwards. The introduction dates of various types, compared to the date of their acquisition by the Belgians, tells the tale. The Franco-American ''
Lafayette Escadrille The La Fayette Escadrille (french: Escadrille de La Fayette) was the name of the French Air Force unit escadrille N 124 during the First World War World War I or the First World War, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, was a global war or ...
'' had Nieuport 16s as early as May 1916; the Belgians got them at the end of the year. The
Nieuport 17 The Nieuport 17 C.1 (or Nieuport XVII C.1 in contemporary sources) was a French sesquiplane fighter designed and manufactured by the Nieuport company during World War I World War I or the First World War, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, ...

Nieuport 17
came into service with the French as early as June 1916, but the Belgians received so few that in June 1917 they were still operating all their earlier Nieuports. They then contracted for newer
Nieuport 23 Nieuport, later Nieuport-Delage, was a France, French aeroplane company that primarily built racing aircraft before World War I and fighter aircraft during World War I and between the wars. History Beginnings Originally formed as Nieuport-Dupl ...
s, which were basically up-engined Nieuport 17s.
Spad VII The SPAD S.VII was the first of a series of highly successful biplane fighter aircraft produced by ''Société Pour L'Aviation et ses Dérivés'' (SPAD) during the World War I, First World War. Like its successors, the S.VII was renowned as a st ...
s had entered French service on 2 September 1916; the Belgians first received them almost an entire year later, with the first one on board on 22 August 1917. In September 1917, Belgium had the Hanriot HD.1 supplied to it the year after it was introduced.
Spad XIII The SPAD S.XIII was a French biplane fighter aircraft of the World War I, First World War, developed by ''Société Pour L'Aviation et ses Dérivés'' (SPAD) from the earlier and highly successful SPAD S.VII. During early 1917, the French design ...
s also came on line that month, but would not show up in Belgian inventory until the next year.
Sopwith Camel The Sopwith Camel is a British World War I, First World War single-seat biplane fighter aircraft that was introduced on the Western Front (World War I), Western Front in 1917. It was developed by the Sopwith Aviation Company as a successor to ...

Sopwith Camel
s first went into service in May 1917 and the AMB received its first one on 29 November 1917. The AMB did make one attempt to design and build its own aircraft. However the Ponnier M1 was not good enough for production, and the ten or so manufactured ended up with clipped wings as powered "Penguin" rollers for training rookie pilots.


Operational summary

One of its
flying ace A flying ace, fighter ace or air ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft An aircraft is a vehicle or machine that is able to fly Flies are insect Insects or Insecta (from Latin Lati ...
pilots,
Willy Coppens Willy Omer François Jean baron Coppens de Houthulst (6 July 1892 – 21 December 1986) was Belgium's leading fighter ace A flying ace, fighter ace or air ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft ...

Willy Coppens
, became the top ranking
balloon buster Balloon busters were military pilots known for destroying enemy observation balloons. These pilots were noted for their fearlessness, as balloons were stationary targets able to receive heavy defenses, from the ground and the air.Guttman, Dempsey 2 ...
of World War I, as well as one of the war's top aces. Four other pilots from the tiny force also became aces with it: Andre de Meulemeester,
Edmond Thieffry Edmond Thieffry (28 September 1892 – 11 April 1929) was a Belgian First World War air Flying ace, ace and aviation pioneer. He made, with Léopold Roger and Jef de Bruycker, the first successful flight between Belgium and Democratic Republic ...

Edmond Thieffry
,
Jan Olieslagers Lieutenant Jan Olieslagers was a Belgian motorcycle and aviation pioneer who set world records with both types of machinery. He became a flying ace during World War I despite his indifference in claiming victories; he was credited with six confirmed ...

Jan Olieslagers
, and
Fernand Jacquet Captain-Commandant Fernand Maximillian Leon Jacquet was a World War I flying ace credited with seven aerial victories. He was the first Belgian pilot to score an aerial victory, on 17 April 1915, and became the first Belgian ace on 1 February 1917. ...

Fernand Jacquet
. A sixth Belgian,
Adolphe DuBois d'Aische Sergeant Adolphe Alois de Gonzague Marie Hubert Ghislain du Bois d'Aische was a Belgian World War I flying ace credited with six aerial victories. Serving in the French Air Service, he was the oldest ace in the war, scoring his fifth (and sixth) vi ...
, became the war's oldest ace while in French service. The fledgling air force was entrusted with flying both King Albert and Queen Elizabeth over the battle front at times.


Between the world wars

During the
interwar period In the history of the 20th century, the Interwar period lasted from 11 November 1918 to 1 September 1939 (20 years, 9 months and 21 days), the end of the First World War World War I or the First World War, often abbreviated as WWI or ...
, the Belgian Army Air Force flew the
Breguet 19Breguet or Bréguet may refer to: * Breguet (watch), watch manufacturer ** Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747–1823), Swiss watchmaker ** Louis-François-Clement Breguet (1804–1883), French physicist, watchmaker, electrical and telegraph work * Brég ...
. Some efforts were made to acquire aircraft from local production, such as those by
Stampe et Vertongen Stampe et Vertongen was a Belgium, Belgian aircraft manufacturer formed in 1922 and based at Antwerp. The company specialised in design and construction of primary trainers/tourers and advanced trainers. One of their products - the Stampe-Vertongen ...
and Renard. They also evaluated native designs like the
ACAZ C.2
ACAZ C.2
and
LACAB GR.8
LACAB GR.8
, none of which entered mass production however.


World War II

At the start of World War II, the Army Air Force had three active Air Force Regiments. Aircraft which were used by those regiments were the
Renard R-31 The Renard R.31 was a Belgium, Belgian reconnaissance aircraft of the 1930s. A single-engined parasol monoplane, 32 R.31s were built for the Belgian Air Force, the survivors of which, although obsolete, remained in service when Nazi Germany invaded ...
and R-32, the Fiat CR.42 Falco, the
Hawker Hurricane The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft Fighter aircraft are fixed-wing aircraft, fixed-wing military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat. In military conflict, the role of fighter aircraft is to establi ...

Hawker Hurricane
, the
Gloster Gladiator The Gloster Gladiator was a United Kingdom, British-built biplane Fighter aircraft, fighter. It was used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) (as the Sea Gladiator variant) and was exported to a number of other air forces du ...

Gloster Gladiator
, the
Fairey Fox The Fairey Fox was a British light bomber and fighter biplane of the 1920s and 1930s. It was originally produced in Britain for the RAF, but continued in production and use in Belgium Belgium ( nl, België ; french: Belgique ; german ...

Fairey Fox
, and the
Fairey Battle The Fairey Battle was a British single-engine light bomber that was designed and manufactured by the Fairey Aviation Company. It was developed during the mid-1930s for the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a monoplane successor to the Hawker Hart and Ha ...

Fairey Battle
. These were massacred by the much superior German Luftwaffe in the German invasion of May 1940. Before the outbreak of the war Belgium also sought to equip the ''Aviation Militaire'' with foreign designs, ordering production licences in
Poland Poland ( pl, Polska ), officially the Republic of Poland ( pl, Rzeczpospolita Polska, links=no ), is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 Voivodeships of Poland, administrative provinces, covering an area of , and ha ...

Poland
and
France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a country primarily located in Western Europe, consisting of metropolitan France and Overseas France, several overseas regions and territories. The metro ...

France
and aircraft in the USA. However, the acquired licences could not be used until May 1940 and the aircraft produced in the USA were eventually delivered to
France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a country primarily located in Western Europe, consisting of metropolitan France and Overseas France, several overseas regions and territories. The metro ...

France
and to the
United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United Kingdom. Some prefer to use Britain as shortha ...

United Kingdom
. After the surrender of Belgium on 28 May 1940, a very small Belgian Air Force in exile was created in Great Britain as the Belgian section of the
Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve The Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) was established in 1936 to support the preparedness of the U.K. Royal Air Force in the event of another war. The Air Ministry intended it to form a supplement to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force The R ...
. This small force was active within the British
Royal Air Force The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the United Kingdom's Air force, air and space force. It was formed towards the end of the World War I, First World War on 1 April 1918, becoming the first independent air force in the world, by regrouping the Royal ...
, and its squadrons were equipped with the
Supermarine Spitfire The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft Fighter aircraft are fixed-wing aircraft, fixed-wing military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat. In military conflict, the role of fighter aircraft is to e ...

Supermarine Spitfire
and
Hawker Typhoon The Hawker Typhoon is a British single-seat fighter-bomber, produced by Hawker Aircraft. It was intended to be a medium-high altitude interceptor aircraft, interceptor, as a replacement for the Hawker Hurricane but several design problems wer ...

Hawker Typhoon
.


The Cold War

On 15 October 1946, the Belgian military aviation was turned into an autonomous force, independent of the Belgian Army. From September 1953 to 1960, the ''Ecole de Pilotage Avancé'' ("Advanced Pilots' School") operated Harvards from the
Kamina Kamina is the capital city of Haut-Lomami Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Transport Kamina is known as an important railway node; three lines of the Congo Railway, DRC railways run from Kamina toward the north, west, and sout ...
military base in the
Belgian Congo The Belgian Congo (french: link=no, Congo belge, ; nl, Belgisch-Congo) was a Belgian colonial empire, Belgian colony in Central Africa from 1908 until independence in 1960. The former colony adopted its present name, the Democratic Republic of ...

Belgian Congo
. Seemingly about 60 Harvards were at the base.


Post-Cold War reforms

At the beginning of the 1990s, the end of the Cold War caused the Belgian government to restructure the Belgian Armed Forces in order to cope with the changed threats. The Belgian Air Force was hit hard and saw its strength more than halved with the disbanding of the 3rd Tactical Wing in Bierset (1994); the disbanding of the 1st Fighter Wing in
Beauvechain Beauvechain (Walloon language, Walloon: ''Bôvètché'', nl, Bevekom) is a Wallonia, Walloon Municipalities of Belgium, municipality located in the Belgium, Belgian province of Walloon Brabant. On 1 January 2006 the municipality had 6,529 inhabita ...

Beauvechain
; the 9th Training Wing in Sint-Truiden Air Base; and the Elementary Flying School in Goetsenhoven Military Airfield, Goetsenhoven (1996). In 2002, the Belgian government decided to emulate Canada and impose a "single structure" on its armed forces in which the independent Belgian Air Force ceased to exist. The Belgian Air Component (''COMOPSAIR being the HQ'') consists of the 2nd Tactical Wing in Florennes Air Base and the 10th Tactical Wing in Kleine Brogel Air Base, both flying F-16s in four squadrons. Out of the 160 F-16s originally bought by Belgium, only 105 were upgraded; with further reductions to 72 aircraft in 2005; and planned to 60 by 2012. The 1st Wing (Belgium), 1st Wing at Beauvechain Air Base is assigned for the training of pilots, using the piston-powered Aermacchi SF.260 for elementary training, and the Alpha Jet for advanced training. Advanced combat training is done on F-16's at Kleine Brogel Air Base, Kleine Brogel. COMOPSAIR still operates the Lockheed Corporation, Lockheed C-130 Hercules in the 15th Air Transport Wing based at Melsbroek Air Base, planning to replace them by seven Airbus A400M transport aircraft. VIPs are transported with Embraer ERJ 145 family, Embraer 135/145 jets, Dassault Falcon, Dassault 20/900, and the Airbus A321. The Westland Sea King, Sea King SAR helicopters were phased out in March 2019 after more than 40 years of service and replaced by NHI NH90, NH-90s (4 NFH + 4 TTH). The Aérospatiale Alouette III, Alouette III helicopters flown for the Belgian Navy in a utility-role and will be phased out in 2021. In 2004, as part of the unified structure, the Army Aviation units of the Wing Heli were transferred to the COMOPSAIR. These contain the Agusta A109 attack helicopter, and the Aérospatiale Alouette II, Alouette II training and recce helicopter. In 2005, the Belgian Alpha Jets moved to Cazaux in France to continue the 11 Squadron (Belgian Air Force), Initial Operational Training, while the Advanced Jet Training was done on French Alpha Jets at Tours. As from 2013 both Advanced Jet Training as well as Initial Operational Training are completed in Cazaux in France. Within the framework of its commitments within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, Belgium has assigned its 72 F-16s to NATO purposes. Two squadrons with a total of 16 aircraft have been designated for use by the ''Rapid Reaction Forces''. In February 2008, Defense Minister Pieter De Crem announced that due to increasing problems and poor serviceability, the two Airbus A310, A310s were to be replaced as soon as possible by two aircraft in the same class. An Airbus A330 was dry-leased to take their place till March 2014 where it was replaced by an Airbus A321. On September 1, 2010, the Wing Heli in Bierset was disbanded and the Agusta A109 helicopters moved to Beauvechain Air Base to become 1st Wing (Belgium), 1st Wing. The Aermacchi SF.260, SF260 squadrons became part of the Basic Flying Training School (Belgian Air Component), Basic Flying Training School. On May 24, 2011, it was reported that the two retired Airbus A310 aircraft have been sold to the Brussels-based company MAD Africa for the amount of 700,000 euros. The company then sold them on to the Dutch Van Vliet transport company, who in their turn will transfer the aircraft to an as yet unspecified Abu Dhabi-based operator.


Retired aircraft


1990s

In January 1991, 18 Mirage 5 aircraft of the 3rd Tactical Wing were deployed to Turkey, Turkey's Diyarbakır air base. During this operation, Belgian aircraft carried out several flights along the Iraqi border. After this operation the obsolete Mirage 5s were phased out. On 15 July 1996, a C-130 with serial CH-06 carrying 37 members of the Dutch Army Fanfare Band and four Belgian crew members crashed at Eindhoven Airport, Eindhoven after a bird strike while executing a go-around, resulting in the loss of power to two engines. 34 passengers were killed, and only 7 survived. The accident is known in the Netherlands as the Herculesramp. From October 1996, the Belgian Air Force cooperated with the Dutch Royal Air Force in the "Deployable Air Task Force" in patrolling former Yugoslavian airspace. F-16s of the 2nd and 10th Tactical Wings, operating from the Italian bases of Villafranca Air Base, Villafranca and Amendola Air Base, Amendola, were assigned to missions insuring the control of a No-Fly Zone over Yugoslavia, and providing the air support necessary for UN and NATO troops. Between March 24 and June 10, 1999, twelve Belgian F-16s carried out 679 combat sorties – the first time since the second World War that Belgian aircraft took part in active war operations in enemy territory – against Serbia during the Kosovo crisis. The last Belgian F-16 detachment left Italy in August 2001.


2000s

On 29 March 2004, four F-16s from Kleine Brogel Air Base, Kleine Brogel were transferred under NATO, NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission to the Šiauliai International Airport, Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania for three months, where they were employed in monitoring the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian skies. In 2005, the Helicopter Wing (WHeli – HeliW) deployed four A-109 (including one Medevac) in Tuzla, Bosnia. In July, four F-16s deployed to Afghanistan to support the NATO International Security Assistance Force. From June to October 2005, the 80th UAV Squadron (Belgium), 80th UAV Squadron deployed its B-Hunter in Tuzla. In 2006, Belgian Hunter unmanned air vehicles deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of the European Union, EU EUFOR peacekeeping mission. At the same time, the Helicopter Wing (WHeli – HeliW) deployed three A-109 (including 1 Medevac) in Mostar, Bosnia, in Operation Blue Bee. On 1 December 2006 the Belgian Air Component deployed again under Baltic Air Policing mission four F-16 MLU aircraft to Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania, to defend the airspace of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. From August 2008, four F-16s were deployed to Kandahar in Afghanistan in support of the Dutch land forces. In March 2011, Belgium deployed six F-16 fighters to Patras Araxos Airport, Araxos in Greece, in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn, to support the NATO operations over Libya. The aircraft were already at the base as part of a joint exercise and were transferred to NATO command. Up to June 2011, the aircraft had flown over 1,000 hours over Libya and attacked various military installations and targets.


2010s

On 12 September 2011 a Wikileaks document showed a diplomatic cable from the American ambassador and the Minister of Defence Pieter De Crem that Belgium is interested in buying off-the-shelf Lockheed F-35 Lightnings by 2020. In 2013 the Belgian Air Force supported French operations in Mali providing Medevac helicopter support with two A-109 helicopters and two C-130 Hercules in a tactical air transport role. On 2 September 2013, four F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter-jets of the Royal Belgian Air Force landed at the Šiauliai Air Base to take charge of Baltic Air Policing, NATO's Air Policing mission over the Baltic states. Between October 2014 and July 2015 six Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcons were deployed under Operation Desert Falcon to Muwaffaq Salti Air Base as part of 2014 military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. On 11 October 2018 a Belgian Air Force F-16 caught fire during maintenance works at Florennes Air Base. The fire, reportedly caused by the accidental firing of a cannon, completely destroyed that aircraft. A second F-16 was also damaged. On 25 October 2018, Belgium officially selected the offer for 34 F-35As to replace the current fleet of around 54 F-16s. In the accompanying news conference, government officials stated that the decision to select the F-35 over the Eurofighter Typhoon came down to the price, and later stated that "The offer from the Americans was the best in all our seven valuation criteria". The total purchasing price for the aircraft and its support until 2030 totaled €4 billion, €600 million cheaper than the initially budgeted €4.6 billion. First deliveries are scheduled to take place in 2023. On 19 September 2019, a Belgian Air Force F-16 crashed in France.


Joint air policing

On 4 March 2015, the Belgian and Dutch ministers of defence, along with the ambassador of Luxembourg to the Netherlands, signed an agreement on joint air policing. Starting mid-2017, the Belgian Air Component and the Royal Netherlands Air Force will take turns keeping two F-16s on quick reaction alert (QRA) defending the airspace of all three Benelux countries. The agreement could allow the Belgian minister of defence to order a Dutch aircraft to use lethal force over Belgian airspace, and vice versa. Military of Luxembourg, Luxembourg, while currently covered by Belgian QRA, does not allow the use of lethal force over its territory.


Current structure


Aircraft


Current inventory

File:NH Industries NH90-NFH ‘RN-02’ (cropped).jpg, A NH90-NFH on display at Florennes Air Base


Future

In the strategic defence vision report of the Belgian government it was stated that the Belgian air component will invest in 34 new fighter aircraft being introduced into service 2025–2030 and one aerial refuelling aircraft (A330 MRTT) as part of the Multi National Tanker Transport squadron based at Eindhoven Airport, to be able to deploy the new fighter aircraft in a more independent fashion. The Belgian government is also planning to purchase four large reconnaissance UAVs with the option to buy eight more which will be able to fly at great height. Their primary goal will be reconnaissance assignments but the option also exists to arm them. Regarding the replacement of the aging F-16s there was some controversy within the Belgian government. The Flemish socialist party claimed that the government has already chosen the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, ignoring the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale, which were both also part of the tender, because it intended to purchase fighters of a "new generation", and the successor of the F-16s also needed the capability of carrying B61 nuclear bomb, B61 nuclear warheads, which are supposedly stored at Kleine Brogel Air Base, Kleine Brogel. Minister of Defence Steven Vandeput contradicted this and stated that no official choice would be made until 2018 and that all options were still on the table. The Sea King helicopters were retired in March 2019 after 43 years of service. The Alpha Jet will also be retired by December 2019 and future pilot training is to be conducted in the US at the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) program based at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. On 25 October 2018, Belgium officially selected the offer for 34 F-35As to replace the current fleet of around 53 F-16s. In the accompanied news conference, government officials stated that the decision to select the F-35 over the Eurofighter Typhoon came down to the price, and later stated that "The offer from the Americans was the best in all our seven valuation criteria". The total purchasing price for the aircraft and its support until 2030 totaled €4 billion, €600 million cheaper than the initially budgeted €4.6 billion. First deliveries are scheduled to take place in 2023. In 2018 the Belgian Government approved the negotiations to acquire two General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, General Atomics MQ-9B SkyGuardian MALE drones. MQ-9B was planned to be operational in 2023. In 2018 two Hercules aircraft were retired. In 2019 and 2020 additional aircraft were retired prior to the transition to the Airbus A400M starting in 2020. The remaining Hercules will be phased out; two in 2021 and the last four end of 2021. Belgium contributes one Airbus A330 MRTT#Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet, Airbus A330 MRTT tanker aircraft as part of the NATO MRTT Squadron at Eindhoven Air Base, replacing the leased Airbus 321 and will be phased out. in June 2020, it was deemed that the NH90 was too expensive and too few in numbers to be operated effectivly, plans are now to withdraw the 4 TTH-versions by 2024 and focus solely on the NFH's SAR and naval operations. a possible replacement could be the Eurocopter EC145, Airbus H145M, up to 15 could be ordered to both replace the NH90-TTH and the remaining Agusta A109BAi's.


List of obsolete weapons and equipment

* MIM-23 Hawk surface-to-air missile * Nike Hercules surface-to-surface missile


See also

* List of Lockheed F-104 Starfighter operators


References


Bibliography

* * * * * Silvester, John. "Call to Arms: The Percival Sea Prince and Pembroke". ''Air Enthusiast'', No. 55, Autumn 1994, pp. 56–61. *


External links

* {{Authority control Belgian Air Component, Aviation in Belgium Military units and formations established in 1909 1909 establishments in Belgium