Text & Pictures: Alain Debras - Translation: Marc Arys  © sbap 2016

Florennes - Tuesday September 13, 2016.

The Army and Air Component organize a Joint Power Demo

It has become a tradition that, in September, we are granted a demonstration on the collaboration between the Army and the Air Force.
After Beauvechain and Elsenborn, Florennes airbase welcomed around 300 first class spectators (Belgian and international generals and field officers, diplomatic corps, military attachés and a dozens student-officers of the Royal Military School). The goal of this demo was to illustrate some conflictual situations where the Army and Air Force team up optimally.
Those real life situations were taken from recent missions, especially in Afghanistan, but also likely to happen wherever in the world where our troops could be asked to intervene.
Various scenarios were put forward involving a C130, a NH90, a A109 support helicopter and a A109 Medevac, two F-16 from Kleine-Brogel and four F-16 based at Florennes ; the Army supplied the para-commandos and the special forces.
Paradrop from a C130, fastroping from a NH90, landing of an assault company out of a C130 on the ground, terrain cover by a A109, powered flights and terrain cleaning by the F-16, release and evacuation of hostages, back-up call in, high altitude aerial cover (F-16), forward air controllers, retrieval of the personnal by NH90 and C130 and evacuation of the casualties by A109 Medevac… Everything to keep us busy for more than one hour…The dynamic part was concluded by a low fly by of the four 'local' F-16 in a perfect diamond formation. 

This demo had been preceded by a briefing divided in two parts presenting the Army and the Air Force in their actual settings and the perspective of the strategic plan through 2030. The goal to ensure every possibility of mobility and reactivity of the Belgian Forces throughout their missions allotted to the NATO framework (combat aircraft, transport aircraft, air-to-air refueling, SAR- and ground support helicopters, Special Forces and various materials).

Following this demonstration, three groups were formed, each accompanied by a specialized guide, which had the opportunity to visit a static exhibition of all kind of materials available to the Army units, ranging from the small individual first aid kit to the big tow away truck, through all the Piranha variants, the Dingo as well as the whole range of individual and collective weaponry.

SBAP wishes to thank heartily Cdt Verbruggen for his warm welcome, the perfect organization and the quality of his comments.

Joint Power Demo 2016
 Arrival of the jumpers in the conflict zone Taking position
 Potential enemy vehicle intercepted Camouflage in the "hot" zone
 Troops arrival with a NH-90 TTH Under protection of an Agusta A109 with gunners
 Air to ground support result Evacuation of the zone
 Take off Wounded evacuation

 The static display: Commando equipment Air delivery exhibition
 VW Iltis Jeep ready for an aerial delivery UAV communication truck
 B Hunter unmaned aerial vehicle The NH-90 NFH
 The material embarqued for the different SAR situations The NH-90 NFH is now operational for SAR purposes
Air Component Operations (Via Cdt Verbruggen)
(Pictures: Serge Van Heertum, Marc Arys, Olivier Van Gorp)

GENERAL – During the past decades the Belgian Air Force contributed prominently to the achievement of the three core tasks of our national defense forces; the collective defense of the Alliance, the provision of collective security through global engagement, and the protection of our fellow countrymen on our national territory as well as abroad. In a security environment that is very volatile and increasingly complex, the operational output of Allied Air Power has been and will be an important stabilizing factor. We are a modest but very capable force. Our outstanding track records as a reliable partner have created expectations amongst our Allies. So, today, as we speak, we are working hard to live up to those expectations, as well during operational engagements abroad as at the Defense Staff where the air contributions to the new Strategic Vision are being elaborated. Now, let me make this more concrete by giving you a clearer view on our current and future air capabilities, many of which you will see in action this afternoon. 


HELICOPTER – First of all, we distinguish three core capabilities we consider indispensible for the contribution to combined joint operations in all three core tasks that were mentioned before. These core capabilities are: our air combat capability, our air transport capability and our rotary wing capability. Two years ago the first of 08 state-of-the art NH-90 ‘Caiman’ helicopters were delivered. Four of these robust helicopters are dedicated to the tactical troop transportation mission in a nonpermissive environment, optionally in a medical evacuation role. Our airmen and -women are working hard every day to reach the full operational status or ‘FOC’ in 2018. The other four Caiman platforms not only look different in their grey camouflage scheme, they are different. This variant called NATO Frigate Helicopter is dedicated to the maritime operations in the domain of anti-surface and antisubmarine warfare, supplemented by the national Search And Rescue role. The NFH will ultimately replace the current fleet of ageing Sea Kings in 2018 and Alouette III in 2021. The Caiman NFH is scheduled to reach its Initial Operational status by mid-2018. The Caiman fleet will still be supported by a strongly reduced number of A-109 Agusta. Eight A-109 are in the process of being upgraded so they can support and partially absorb the training requirements of the Caiman. Since the 1st of September the A-109 has also adopted a role within the national counter-terrorism measures in the form of an armed Quick Reaction capability. 

TRANSPORT – Within the second core capability, air transport, our 11 well-known C-130s form the current core. Their global reach and their capability to land under austere conditions, even on unprepared surfaces, are indispensible for the projection and the sustained logistical support of national and Allied forces of all three services; land, air and maritime. As from 2019 the 11 C-130s will be gradually replaced by a fleet of 08 brand new Airbus A400M, including one aircraft owned by the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg. Hence the future support of our national and Allied expeditionary operations can be guaranteed, as well as the emergency recovery of Belgian citizens abroad, the so-called Non-combatant evacuation operations or NEO. Besides these very robust tactical transport aircraft, the Belgian Air Force currently has a fleet of 7 commercial type aircraft at its disposal to respond to personnel and limited cargo transport requirements in a more permissive environment. Some of these aircraft, in particular the smaller Falcon jets are reaching their end of lifetime, whilst others, like the Embraer regional jets still have a significant future potential. Therefore the Defense Staff is analyzing how the composition and exploitation of the so-called ‘white fleet’ can be optimized in a modern and economically sound approach through cooperation with commercial partners. We already have experience in the domain of public-private cooperation thanks to the leasing contract of the Airbus A321. 

COMBAT – Last, but certainly not least, I would like to mention our main core capability. For almost 40 years now the F-16 is a unique spearhead of the offensive and defensive power of our armed forces. It is the corner stone of a credible, powerful and hi-tech Air Force that can operate at the leading edge throughout the full spectrum of operations. During 17 calendar years of the last two decades our F- 16’s have been deployed for operations worldwide, at a certain point even continuously for 7 years in a row at multiple locations. These airplanes delivered valuable and highly appreciated air power in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Libya. At this very moment 6 of our F-16’s are deployed in the Middle-East and make daily contributions to the intensive battle against Daesh, or ISIL if you want. Additionally, ever since the attacks of 9/11 two fully armed F-16’s have been ready 24/7 to respond to terrorist air threats on a very short notice. This Quick Reaction Alert also safeguards the overall integrity of NATO airspace. Almost 40, and scheduled to perform until the age of 50, these F-16’s have proven to be a justified investment. As from 2023 till 2029 our current fleet of 54 F-16’s will be gradually replaced by 34 new fighters of a type which is yet to be selected. Thanks to modern operational concepts and training facilities, the level of ambition, i.e. the operational output, will not decrease significantly. But for sure, whichever of the current replacement candidates is to be chosen, it will have very big shoes to fill given the expectations amongst allies and the challenges that lie ahead of us. 

RED WIRE – The red wire throughout these core capabilities is international cooperation. Time does not allow me to enter into detail, but various examples are at hand. Be it a common stock of spare parts or common synthetic training for the Caiman, the pooling of air transport assets through the European Air Transport Command in Eindhoven or the operationally proven Expeditionary Air Wing for the F-16’s; these are all well-working cooperation mechanisms that generate a win-win situation for all parties involved. I’d like to remind you of the fact that the configuration of the Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese and Belgian models is still 99% identical. Very unique for such a complex weapon system. Hence it needs to be emphasized that one of the critical success factors for these projects is, amongst others, the commonality of platform. 

PILOT TRAINING – Besides top-notch maintenance and logistics, and besides day-to-day security and real-life support, the core capabilities depend on support from various other angles. Our aircraft and helicopters need well-trained pilots to operate them efficiently, effectively and – above all – safely. Air safety is by the way permanently supervised and improved for all our flying assets by the Aviation Safety Directorate which is nationally and internationally renowned for its competence. The foundations of our pilot training, and even of many of our ground personnel, are situated at the ‘Competence Center Air’ in Beauvechain. They govern the required ground courses, the basic flight training on Marchetti and the subsequent advanced training on Alpha-jet, on the twin-engine Xinghu for future transport pilots, or on the Ecureuil helicopter for future helicopter pilots. All this specialized and advanced training has been successfully organized at various locations in France since 2004 in close cooperation, mostly even integrated, with the Armée de l’Air Française. The specialized helicopter and transport training will remain situated in France for the foreseeable future. However, the Alpha-jets will reach their end of lifetime in 2018 and it was decided that no new advanced trainers will be purchased, so alternative solutions have been sought. As soon as the government decision on the replacement of the F-16 has been taken, a tailored training system can be implemented. In the meantime the decision has been taken to transition to the Euro NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training at Sheppard AFB, Texas. This option currently is the only available and suitable one within NATO. 

ATC/ADC – In modern aviation, all airborne assets have to be guided and de-conflicted from each other as well in peace time as in combat situations. Within an hour you will get an impression of how congested the air above us can be. These services are respectively referred to as Air Traffic Control and Air Defence Control. Currently the Air Force’s Air Traffic Control Center is located in Semmerzake, close to Ghent. The Combat Reporting Center for Air Defence Control is located in Glons, close to Liège. For ATC a co-location and integration in the organization and infrastructure of the civilian ATCfacilities of ‘Belgocontrol’ nearby Brussels is under study. As soon as the new infrastructure has been constructed on the airbase of Beauvechain the Air Defence Control will be re-located from its underground bunker in Glons to above-ground facilities in Beauvechain. 

LINK – The new CRC-installations at Beauvechain will also have provisions for the creation of the so-called ‘LinK’, our future national air information exchange node. The concept is based on the successful maritime model at Zeebrugge called the ‘MIK’. It will create an integrated air picture and execute Command and Control over Belgian air assets in the national airspace for the improvement of security and the fight against illegal activities. Therefore, the LinK will be a crucial and permanent inter-departmental civil-military coordination body amongst the military, the Federal Police, Customs, Justice, Migration, etc. Recently, a successful series of coordinated field operations between customs officers and air force observation assets proved to be very beneficial. The LinK could also play a leading role in coordinating the air assistance to major forest fires or any other national disaster. 


AIR C4 ISR – Another brand new development: AIR C4 ISR. The Belgian Air Force is on the verge of publishing its brand new AirC4ISR doctrine and in due course the associated architecture will be developed. Air C4ISR sounds complicated, but in fact it is fairly straight forward. AirC4ISR is the mandatory link through Computers & Communications between Command & Control and the ISR domain in the framework of Air Operations. Air C4ISR performs an enabling role for weapon systems employed both domestically and in expeditionary operations. The purpose of AirC4ISR is to coordinate, task and supervise in a timely manner. Ultimately, within roughly a decade, all new platforms, their associated sensors and the AirC4ISR architecture should contribute to a new concept called the ‘Combat Cloud’. The Combat Cloud concept is a new vision for sharing data between aircraft, ships, satellites, etc. allowing them to easily link-up and share real-time data. This overarching dense data network should become a true force multiplier that could even partially compensate for the shrinking fleets throughout the Alliance. 

EMERGING CAPABILITIES – The Strategic Vision for the Belgian Armed Forces of June 2016 envisages various new capabilities for the Air Force. New capabilities we never incorporated before and which will therefore require dedicated attention. A short overview: 

MULTI-ROLE TANKER TRANSPORT – An MRTT, which stands for Multi-Role Tanker Transport, can refuel other airplanes airborne and simultaneously transport personnel and cargo. Today, for instance, we use this capacity when exchanging F-16s in the Middle- East supported by a Dutch MRTT airplane. Air-to-air refueling is a confirmed force multiplier. As an example: each and every mission the Belgian F-16’s flew over Libya in 2011 required air-to-air refueling. It is however a capability shortfall within Europe. So the acquisition of one MRTT between 2024 and 2027 as part of an EDAinitiated multinational fleet, will undoubtedly be valued by our allies. 


MALE – The Belgian Air Force currently operates the B-Hunter Unmanned Aerial system, or UAS, that belongs to the class of ‘tactical UAS’. Based on the provisions in the Strategic Vision, the early preparatory works have started for the acquisition of a so-called ‘MALE’ UAS in the 2021 to 2025 timeframe. MALE stands for Medium Altitude Long Endurance. A MALE stands one level up from the tactical UAS because it flies higher and has an increased endurance of over 12 hours. The medium-term acquisition of 2 platforms and associated support systems should bridge the gap between the current tactical B-Hunter and a yet to be developed European-built MALE, which should be available around 2030. The Air Force will operate and maintain the MALEs but evidently the data it produces will be made available to any entitled customer. Optionally these MALEs can be armed. Although labeled ‘unmanned’ this UAS requires a significant amount of manpower to support it. This project could be the first case for a reasonable amount of outsourced technical support personnel, but that approach is yet to be confirmed. 


SOF AVIATION – In the future, the Belgian Special Operations Forces or SOF will receive supplementary support through dedicated aviation assets. In this context the acquisition of 4 so-called Short Take-Off and Landing airplanes is envisaged for insertion, extraction and supply of Special Forces. These small, ruggedized and very discrete airplanes can operate from short and unprepared surfaces. They only require very basic technical support and therefore have a high degree of autonomy when deployed. 

CONCLUSION – As a conclusion, let me state that the Belgian Air Force is truly proud of its past and current accomplishments but it will not rest on its laurels. In order to pursue this positive track record, we are intensively preparing our future. Evidently, the realization of our future ambitions requires some prerequisites to be established first, none the least the availability of sufficient budgetary resources and the recruitment of sufficient and capable personnel. On those premises the Belgian Air Force feels confident it will be able to keep on delivering a significant contribution to the joint fight, to our national security and to the security of our Allies and partners.

Jeroen Poesen Head of Operations within the Belgian Air Staff

Land Component Operations (Original documents via Cdt Verbruggen)
 Land  Component operations categories National Security against terorism
 International Operations The material and the various usage: Heavy AIV Piranha
 Light MPPV Dingo The different missions of the Para-Commando units
Conflict zone support Logistic and Communications

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