1/ The beginning of the end
Defence reorganization plans announced in December 2003 stated that the Belgian F-16 fleet will be gradually reduced to 60 aircraft in 2015. The first phase - a reduction up to 72 aircraft - will take place in 2004-2005, fourteen MLU F-16 are being put on long term storage at Weelde and at their turn are offered for sale. The second phase - a reduction up to 60 aircraft - will take place later in the decade. This means that in 2015 the four remaining combat squadrons will be equipped with 15 aircraft each, of which a total of 12 will be dedicated to NATO reaction forces for deployments. A total of eighteen F-16AM/BM are currently announced for sale by the MoD.
The various attempts to sell its stored F-16A/Bs on the international market having failed (1), the Belgian Defence and its Air Component (2) decided in late 2004 to start a large spare parts reclamation process in order to enhance the residual value of these aircraft. A total of 31 non-MLU F-16s are concerned by this programme. The spare parts reclamation process will be executed in 2005 at the Major Dufour Barracks, better known as the Arsenal of Rocourt, near Liège. The semi-dismantled airframes - without engine, wings, stabilizers and fin - are transported by road from Weelde Depot. Six aircraft have already been sent to Rocourt last November, twelve have followed the same route on 11 and 13 January and the last thirteen are due in February (see listing below). At Rocourt, the aircraft are carefully dismantled and all valuable parts are recorded and packed, ready for their future customers. A limited number of parts will be recovered by the Air Component (landing gear elements or hydraulic and electric sub-systems) for the maintenance of its operational fleet. The rest would be sold by batches to dealers, technical schools and scrapyards. It is therefore not impossible to imagine that, in an ultimate phase, an individual could purchase a true Belgian F-16 nose section to integrate a flight sim computer.
In a more positive way, it's worthwhile to quote that the current Air Component F-16 fleet is as operational as ever thanks to - limited - investments in modern weapons systems (AIM-120 AMRAAM air to air missiles, laser guided TAGM-65 Mavericks air to ground missiles and GBU-10/-12/-24/-31s bombs), targeting (AN-AAQ-14), ECM (AN/ALQ-131) and reconnaissance (MRP) pods.
As follow up to its Defence White Paper 2003, the Belgian government has also decided in late 2004 on small investments in the framework of the F-16 European Participating Air Forces partnership. This means that the Air Component MLU F-16s are integrating soon new technologies that will ensure them the latest combat capabilities - mostly through Lockheed Martin developed software. Further investments should include the purchase of new GBU kits, targeting pods as Hemet Mounted Cueing System (HMCS).
2/ Nouvelles des écoles de pilotage européennes : Cazaux et Tours
27/10 - Swiss Air Force is considering to send its young fighter pilots to the French-Belgian Advanced Jet Training School (AJeTS)
In the framework of the French Minister of Defence, Mrs Michèle Alliot-Marie, visit to Switzerland, the Swiss Air Force has expressed its interest to send its young pilots to the French-Belgian Advanced Jet Training School (AJeTS) at Cazaux. By the end of the year, Cazaux isexpecting the arrival of two German students and one from Spain. With other countries joining the ranks, it lappears the AJeTS is becoming the prototype of a truly European fighter pilot school.
07/10 - First Belgian Day at Tours (F.) airbase.
On October 7th, the Belgian detachment of the French-Belgian Advanced Jet Training School (AJeTS) at Tours airbase celebrated its first year of existence by organizing a "Belgian Day". That day, the Tours' Belgian military community presented their hosts a selection of Belgian specialities in a friendly atmosphere. Since last year France and Belgium team up to train their fighter pilots. In the framework of this agreement the future Belgian fighter pilots perform the phase III of their flying training or Advanced Flying Training (AFT) in common with their French counterparts at the command of the French Alpha Jet E at the École de l'Aviation de Chasse 314 of Tours-St-Symphorien.