Armed forces in a sorry state since the establishment of a "single command defence structure" and budget cutbacks

Belgium is to spend €1.02 billion ($1.01 billion) to bring the nation's armed forces up to NATO standards. The services are in a poor state following prolonged restructurings that have seen force numbers halved and budgets slashed.

The plan includes datalink and IFF interrogator kits for Belgium's 90 remaining Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs. Satellite communications equipment will be acquired for the 11 surviving Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules transports and two Airbus A310 transports. Most urgent is €20 million in funding for the modernisation and re-engining of two Dassault Falcon 20s used for liaison and VIP transport duty.

In the short term, the Belgian ministry of defence wants to acquire radar, command and control systems and infrared sights for night operation of MBDA Mistral surface-to-air missiles already in service with both the land and air force. The modernisation programme also includes the acquisition of laser targeting equipment for use by forward air controllers and artillery observers, night vision goggles for helicopter pilots, and a simulator for the Agusta A109 helicopter.

Parliament has been asked to give the green light to long-term funding for 25 major modernisation programmes to bring the country's armed forces up to international standards. The plan includes €158 million for the acquisition of 139 armoured vehicles to replace the army's remaining Leopard tanks, €225 million for one "strategic transport ship" and the downpayment for launching the Airbus Military A400M strategic transport aircraft programme.

The biggest element of Belgium's defence spending in the 2002-15 period will be the acquisition of seven A400Ms to replace the C-130Hs. Belgium is one of the launch customers for the A400M and the programme was approved in principle by parliament in 2001. Because of budget pressures, Belgium has opted not to join the Joint Strike Fighter programme.

At the beginning of the year, the army, the navy and the air force were abolished as separate services and replaced by a "single command defence structure", eliminating their independent staffs and reducing the number of generals. The army, navy and air force became COMOPSLAND, COMOPSNAV and COMOPSAIR, respectively. Belgian investment in new equipment has been on the increase and now stands at €1.5 billion, more than double the historically low annual average of €630 million for 1995-99.

Source: Flight International