By Clement Charpentreau
After consideration, Belgium has now decided not to deliver its aging F-16 aircraft to the Ukrainian military.
Belgian officials cited the fleet condition as a primary reason for their reluctance, estimating that the airframes have accumulated too many flight hours and are at the end of their service life. Coincidentally, Belgium will retire the first F-16A, registered FA-95, from service on August 8, 2023, after it reaches 8,000 flight hours, the end of structural life set by Lockheed Martin.
Lieutenant General Frédéric Goetynck, head of the department of material resources of the Belgian defense, said: “No one will take the political decision to deliver equipment with cracks in its bodywork.”
Belgium’s Minister of Defense, Ludivine Dedonder, stressed that the Belgian Air Component’s current priority is to safeguard the airspace over the Benelux and the Baltic countries.
The fleet of 44 F-16 currently constitutes the backbone of Belgium’s air defense. These aircraft are of the same variant as those that Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands committed to deliver to Ukraine in late August 2023. The four countries, collectively known as the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF), placed a joint order in the late 1970s to replace their Lockheed F-104 Starfighter squadrons.
These F-16A/B Block 20 MLU (Mid-Life Update) aircraft are equipped with a Head-Up Display (HUD) suitable for night operations, a GPS receiver, and a Westinghouse (now Northrop Grumman) AN/APG-66 fire control radar, which enables them to carry and launch six AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles with a range of 150 kilometers (95 miles). They have the capability to release precision-guided weapons such as the GBU-24 Paveway III and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM). Additionally, this variant of the fighter is outfitted to accommodate Sniper and Litening targeting pods.
In October 2018, Belgium made the decision to select the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II over the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale. The country purchased a total of 34 F-35A aircraft to replace the Belgian Air Component fleet of F-16 fighters. Initially due by December 2023, the final delivery of the first two Belgian F-35A combat aircraft was reportedly postponed, pending a comprehensive certification and qualification of the onboard software.
Nevertheless, as an integral part of the international coalition to provide Ukraine with the F-16, the authorities in Belgium have asserted their commitment to contribute to the joint efforts by focusing on training Ukrainian pilots and supporting the refurbishment of planes provided by other countries. The idea of cannibalizing the Belgian F-16s for their parts and components has not yet been publicly discussed.