On 18 April, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders held a press conference at Florennes Air Force Base, commissioning the F35 and MQ-9B.
The Minister of Defence Didier Reyners arrived in a Belgian Air Force NH90 registered RN-07 [configuration Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH)].
He was warmly welcomed by Major General Aviator Frederik Vansina, Commander of the Air Component; Stéphane Lasseaux, Mayor of Florennes; Colonel Aviator BEM Didier Polome, Base Commander 2 Tactical Wing.
As the group was headed to the building, Minister Reyners was given the military honours.
After a short internal briefing, the press conference began. For the presentation to the press, the Minister was joined by Major General Aviator Frederik Vansina, Commander of the Air Component; Colonel Aviator BEM Harold Van Pee, Programme Director F-35; Colonel Aviator BEM Didier Polome, Base Commander 2 Wing Tactic; Colonel Luc Cruysberghs, Programme Director MALE RPAS along with other officers and pilots.
Further to Minister Reynders’s invitation, François Bellot, Mobility Minister and David Clarinval, Federal Deputy, were also present.
Minister Reynders announced that quite a few logistics challenges were ahead of us. Belgian Air Component will invest over 300 million EUR into the infrastructure. Recruitment will also lead to nearly 500 persons over the next 5 years (both military and civilians). In order to meet the highest ‘Work and Life balance’ standards, the Belgian Air Component is also committed to having an onsite child daycare.
Minister Reynders confirmed that among the 34 F-35s ordered, Florennes Air Force Base will be the first one to host them once the pilots training held in the US will be completed.
F-35 has an estimated 8000 flying hours says General Vansina. “Aircraft is ‘like an iPhone’ with all the goodies and technologies that today’s millennial generation and youth would expect. F-35 Aircraft is the state of the art technology fully supporting the pilots in their mission. Aircraft is not invisible but does have furtive capabilities, making it harder to be detected. It is already in service in 14 countries, including 6 European allies countries of ours. We see a standardization around the aircraft as aircraft is used in joined operations already today.”
F-35 Lightning II Fact Sheet :
- 5th generation aircraft
- wingspan 10,70 metres
- length 15,70 metres
- Maximum Take off weight: 31,000 kilogrammes
- Ceiling: 50,000 ft
- Autonomy (internal fuel) : 2,200 kilometres
Simulators have also been purchased for Florennes and Kleine Brogel Air Force Base. They will be integrated and will allow pilots to train and enhance their skills. Simulators are not only used for training reasons but also due to the fact that some equipment should only be used, switched on once airborne.
Transition phase (F-16 and F-35) will be between 2023 to 2030.
First deliveries are expected in 2023, we shall receive 4-5 aircraft, most likely at Luke Air Force Base (Arizona, USA). Then expected planning is 4 in 2024, still in the US, 4 in 2025 and 2026 for Florennes Air Force Base, 4 in 2027 and 2028 for Kleine Brogel Air Force Base then 5 in 2029 for both Florennes and Kleine Brogel Air Force Base and then 4 both Florennes and Kleine Brogel Air Force Base. 34 aircraft in total.
All systems associated, including simulators, will be delivered as per required.
F-16 are expected to remain operational until the end of 2028. Starting in 2023 they will be gradually retired from active service (reaching 8,000 flying hours on cell).
All current F-16 personnel will be converted to F-35, technicians starting in 2023 in the United States or by a European partner; pilots and operational support starting by end of 2022 in the United States.
Additional security personnel will be recruited as per the new infrastructure requirements.
The MQ-9B, the unmanned aircraft is also coming up and will allow flying into all airspaces as currently older drones can only fly in ‘dedicated zones’.
The current B-Hunter done will be retired (planned) by end of 2021. 2 MQ-9B Skyguardian have been purchased. Each system is equipped with two planes (MQ-9B) and a ground station (GCS) hence 4 MQ-9B and 2 GCS in total.
First MQ-9B should be delivered in early 2023 and second one early 2024; both deliveries taking place at Florennes Air Force Base.
Personnel will undergo training in the United States in 2022 and 2023. 80 UAV Staff/Persons (including internal and external recruitment) are expected.
MQ-9B Skyguardian Fact Sheet :
- Remotely Piloted Aircraft
- wingspan 24,08 metres
- length 11,70 metres
- Maximum Take off weight: 5,670 kilogrammes
- Ceiling: 40,000 Ft
- Autonomy: 40 hours
- Equipment: Stabilized tour EO/IR/Laser (MTS-D) and SAR Radar
The Belgian Air Component is recruiting and invites all interested parties, gender equality being enforced, to respond to open positions.
As Minister Reynders underlined, a massive brand new infrastructure (hangars, buildings, child daycare) will be built. Indeed, the current infrastructure is obsolete and does not meet current requirements. In addition, Florennes Air Force Base will also see enhanced security, not only around the base but also within the base with new perimeters to host the F-35s and the MQ-9B.
Press Conference being dismissed, Press commuted to the Apron where Minister Reynders was expected to join live action. Indeed, Minister Didier Reynders also had the opportunity to ‘see as the simulation of a Quick Response Alter (QRA) with an interception as he joined an F-16 Orientation Flight.
Video (source Belgian Air Force)
Today, the Belgian Minister of Defense flew in the back seat of an #F16 @BeAirForce. Prior to the flight, @dreynders informed the media about the upcoming infrastructure works at Kleine Brogel AFB and Florennes AFB to become the home base for F-35A and MQ-9B @BelgiumDefence. pic.twitter.com/uEWUf4wxx4
— Belgian Air Force🇧🇪 (@BeAirForce) April 18, 2019
While Minister Reynders was airborne, the Press was invited for lunch and review of some of the current Air Component Equipment, namely the F-16 with some of its equipment and a B-Hunter drone.
After a little over an hour, Minister Reynders arrived with the F-16 lead pilot Tim, from the 350 SQN. “The mission was to demonstrate the aircraft capability and to showcase a Quick Response Alert by intercepting a helicopter,” says pilot Tim. Tim was very pleased to host Minister Reynders, it was a first time for both, hosting a ‘VIP Orientation flight’ and ‘flying an F-16 for Minister Reynders’; as they both come from Liège. During the flight, Minister Reynders was able to witness live the events of these interceptions. Pilot Tim said that “Minister Reynders did enjoy the mission as they flew over his city, he could spot a few landmarks like the well know Standard Football Facilities. The Minister also experienced a couple a G’s as the aircraft was manoeuvring, including a looping”.
Upon arrival, Minister was greeted by Major General Aviator Frederik Vansina, Commander of the Air Component and Colonel Aviator BEM Didier Polome, Base Commander 2 Tactical Wing who handed over the ‘F-16 Fighting Falcon 1 Flight Hour’ patch. Minister Reynders debriefed his impressions with the Air Component Personnel and Guests along with the Press in a cheerful mood: “Flying the F-16 is much safer than riding these electric scooters that you see in Brussels as here I was wearing a helmet” said Minister Reynders.
The Minister was then introduced to the Air Component Personnel and Staff onsite, visiting an A109, Marchetti, B-Hunter Drone getting acquainted with the crews; sharing their insights. Crews also answered multiple questions from career path to skills used to master these technologies.
As the weather was quite fair with temperatures reaching 22 Celsius, the presentation concluded with refreshments in the hangar where all Personnel, Guests and staff could enjoy a well-deserved break after this intense mission.