Herman De Wulf/BRUSSELS
Belgium is to restructure and slim its armed forces, according to a new 15-year defence policy document released by the government. The report details procurement plans to the middle of the next decade and initiates massive changes to the size and shape of the country's military.
Brussels is continuing to freeze the defence budget at BFr100 billion ($2.26 billion), with small annual increases to allow for inflation. The government has also confirmed its decision to create a unified command structure for the armed forces and abandon its system of separate air force, army and navy staffs established in the 1940s (Flight International, 1-7 February).
Procurement plans envisage Belgium acquiring seven of the yet-to-be-launched Airbus Military Company A400M transports to replace its 11 Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules. Although the procurement was expected, service entry of the European airlifter has been brought forward to 2007-8, from 2015.
Brussels sees a continued need for combat aircraft after 2015 and will maintain its fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16s until then. Numbers will be reduced from today's 90 aircraft to 48 - eventually requiring a purchase of around 60 fighters, with a competition unlikely to be launched before 2010.
The Belgian Government has confirmed its decision not to join the Joint Strike Fighter programme, but it has left the door open to the country's regional governments, giving them the opportunity to pursue participation to improve Belgium's industrial base.
The air force will acquire heavylift helicopters to support Belgium's airmobile brigade, a purchase which has been discussed for several years without moving forward.
The other main changes will see the army lose its heavy tanks and heavy artillery and the navy its three remaining frigates.
Source: Flight International