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Belgian Air Component eyes ambitious operational calendar for 2018

World Defense & Security News - Belgium
Belgian Air Component eyes ambitious operational calendar for 2018
By Nathan Gain

Small air force doesn't necessarily mean small ambitions. On November 10, 2017, the Belgian Council of Ministers approved the operations plan for next year. The Air Component part will see the NH90 Caïman deployed on a foreign theatre for the first time, as well as an increased presence on the NATO eastern flank.
Belgian Air Component Operational Calendar for 2018Two NH90s will be deployed in Mali in 2018
(Credit: BAF/Bart Rosselle)
Strategic vision implementation is underway. We focus on key tasks on the one hand and on the other, on clearing non-military tasks,” stated the Belgian MoD, Steven Vandeput.

The 2018 operations plan reflects the analysis of our security environment and the fact that we are a loyal NATO, EU, and UN partner. The fight against terrorism and radicalism both inside and outside our borders remains the Defense’s top priority,” Vandeput added.

The overall budget will slightly decrease, from 73 million in 2017 to 68.7 million for 2018, explained the Belgian MoD. A reduction that the military explain by the fact that the Netherlands will resume missions in the Iraqi airspace from January 2018, replacing the four Belgian F-16s currently deployed in Jordan within the Operation Desert Falcon.

Belgium is candidate for a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council starting 2019. And if 2018 will mark the end of the country’s command of the European training mission in Mali (EUTM Mali), Belgium’s commitment in the MINUSMA mission will be significantly expanded. 

In addition to sixty soldiers deployed by the Land Component to carry out intelligence missions, the Belgian MoD plans to deploy two Air Component’s (BAF) NH90 Caïman tactical choppers and around 50 military in support of the German helicopter unit based in Gao. The Belgian rotorcraft will perform evacuation and medical transport missions and will be deployed for a maximum of seven months.

Two NH90s operated by the 18th Squadron (Beauvechain AB) were previously involved in Tropical Storm exercise organized in September 2017 in Gabon in preparation to the UN mission in Mali.

Besides the NH90s, the BAF will also send one C-130H Hercules and about 65 soldiers to Bamako, departing for a six-month period from May 2018, possibly extended to one year in collaboration with Portugal, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Belgian Air Component Operational Calendar for 2018 2The BAF will deploy 4 F-16AMs starting September 2018 as part of the Baltic Air Policing mission
(Credit: BAF)

Another big topic for the Air Component will certainly be the Europe's Eastern flank, constantly threatened by Russian military movements. With the goal of safeguarding the airspace over the European Allies, NATO’s peacetime 24/7 Air Policing mission is overseen by Allied Air Command at Ramstein and its two Combined Air Operations Centres at Uedem, Germany, in the North and Torrejon, Spain, in the South.

Baltic Air Policing is a special mission in that Allies take turns deploying their jets to the region to provide an intercept capability to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as these members do not have their own fighter aircraft for such missions. A mission in which the BAF will continue to be involved by reinforcing “the northern airspace in September 2018 for four months with four F-16 and 50 military personnel deployed from a base in Lithuania,” the BAF said through its Twitter account.

Besides assurance measures as part of the NATO Readiness Action Plan (RAP), Belgium will also strongly participate in 2018 to the second part of this plan, the adaptation measures. Belgium's efforts will involve the deployment, within five to seven days, of six F-16AMs throughout 2018 with a maximum of 200 soldiers, as well as up to 26 soldiers preparing to reinforce a JFACC.

From the second half of 2018, Belgium will also take over the command of the European Union Battle Group Benelux (EUBG), in which the MoD plans to deploy two NH90 Caïman helicopters and a detachment of 100 military.

And finally, the BAF will also offer the UN with stand-by capabilities. If needed, UN will be able to rely on up to four B-Hunter RPAS, six F-16AM fighter jets, one white fleet’s A321 airliner and specialists in reinforcement of a Joint Force Air Component Command (JFACC).