The Belgium defence ministry is considering further cost cuts, which could include another reduction in the number of Lockheed Martin F-16fighters.

Sources say the plan involves a 68-aircraft reduction in the F-16s that form part of the COMOPSAIR fleet. COMOPSAIR is the air command within Belgium's unified armed forces structure.

If the plan is implemented Belgium will be left with 50 F-16s, considerably fewer than the number now put at NATO's disposal.

The defence ministry says it is "too early to comment on the plan", but a decision could be taken "within weeks". It also notes that 24 aircraft are available for sale. These have been offered to a number of countries, including the Czech Republic.

COMOPSAIR has 90 F-16A/Bs - 72 declared to NATO- which have all gone through the European mid-life update programme, performed jointly with Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. Another 28 aircraft are stored or due to be stored. Earlier air force plans called for only 48 fighters to be acquired when the F-16 is replaced in around 2015.

Netherlands minister of foreign affairs Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has been appointed as the next secretary general of NATO. Hoop Scheffer will take over from George Robertson on 1 January 2004.

Source: Flight International