Text: Alain Debras - Pictures: Alain Debras and Serge Van Heertum  © sbap 2017


Wednesday, May 17, 2017 - 12:00 - on the N5 at Frasnes (Couvin) a traffic jam ... everyone stopped and already an imposing line of cars was formed.
An accident ?
No, fortunately ... a Belgian Customs van announces a check point.
An impressive display of official vehicles on the central strip and an equally impressive number of uniformed people (customs officers, police officers) as well as a cohort of journalists wearing red tunics from the "Defence - Press" service ... and finally two Federal ministers, yes ... we saw the Minister of Defence - Steven Vandeput and the Minister of Finance - Johan Von Overtveldt.
What is this staging?

 Traffic jam once again, … or …
(Alain Debras ©)
Custom control operation
(Alain Debras ©)
 A lot of custom officers …
(Alain Debras ©)
and some journalists
(Alain Debras ©)

Let's go back to the Florennes air base at 10:30 am that same day.
A press conference is organized jointly by IPR (Defence) and the PR of the SPF Finances.
The respective ministers will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Federal Customs Service and the Defence UAV Squadron.
The objective is to implement B-Hunter-type unmanned military aircraft during large-scale customs controls on public roads.
Customs routinely carries out drug, weapons, illegal cash, fraudulent use of heating fuel, excise duty, …
It also intercepts vehicles which are not in administrative order as well as persons still liable to fines.

Introducing the 80 UAV Sqn

Major Fabrice Leroy, Commanding Officer of the 80 UAV Squadron, presents his unit.
Established in 2002 with the receipt of 18 B-Hunter aircraft and 6 control stations, the Sqn was part of the Land Force and based in Elsenborn.
The unit went under the command of the Air Component in 2004 and moved to Florennes in 2011.
The aircraft were engaged in EUFOR military operations in 2005 in Bosnia and in 2006 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In Belgium they are also used to detect marine pollution in the North Sea and to assist forest rangers. They were also used in 2016 to monitor the port of Antwerp to prevent terrorist acts.
The B-Hunters arrive at the end of their live, but the Minister of Defence wants to extend their use beyond the date set for their withdrawal.
The collaboration with the Customs will probably justify a few years of theft.

 Staff members of Air Component, two Federal Ministers and
Custom agents at Florennes AB
(Alain Debras ©)
Major d'Avi Fabrice Leroy UAV Sqn CO …
(Alain Debras ©)
 Introducing the squadron and its equipments
(Alain Debras ©)
M. Julien de Meeüs d'Argenteuil introducing the custom department
(Alain Debras ©)

Introducing the B-Hunter

The B-Hunter is a surveillance aircraft piloted from the ground by a team of three people (the pilot, the navigator and the mission commander).
It measures 7m in length and 9m in span, has a autonomy of about 10 hours and a range of 100Km from a control station.
It is a platform on which different elements can be mounted: a system of cameras (option chosen by Belgium), a laser designator, a system of jamming, telephone listening, etc.
The cameras that equip our B-Hunters provide images to the ground in real time, day and night.
The B-Hunter is equipped with a GPS receiver and an IFF (Identification Friend or Foe).
It uses an ATLS (Automatic Take-Off and Landing) system that provides maximum safety during take-off and landing.
Thanks to its two engines, it offers a very high level of reliability allowing the overflight of inhabited areas and its integration in the airspace.
A minimum of 300m of runway is required for take-off.
Its recovery is done on track and the stop is ensured by a system of cables.
In the event of breakdown, it remains as a last resort the opportunity for the pilot to open the parachute.

B-Hunter technical sheet

Year of construction: 2002
Builder: IAI (Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd)
Engines: 2 Motoguzzi V75 Hi.e
Power: 62 hp at 7500 RPM
Ceiling: 5000 ft
Range of action: 100km
Speed: cruising speed = 65 kts (120 km / h) - maximum speed = 110 kts (204 km / h)
Dimensions: Length = 6.90 m - Height = 1.81 m - Wingspan = 8.90 m
Weight: Empty = 1100 lbs (500 kg) - Maxi = 1600 lbs (725 kg)

A B-Hunter in the workshop   (Alain Debras ©)
 The post of command offices
(Alain Debras ©)
The screens: for the pilot
(Alain Debras ©)
 For the Mission commander
(Alain Debras ©)
And for the navigator / Observer
(Alain Debras ©)

Introducing the General Administration of Customs and Excise Duty (AGDA)

Mr. Julien de Meeüs d'Argenteuil, Director of the regional centre of Mons explains the specific missions of the Department of Customs and Excise Duty.
The abolition of border controls did not eliminate the usefulness of the AGDA control services.
At present, the missions concern the repression of common law facts (weapons contraband, illegal products - drugs and counterfeiting or piracy - and cash trafficking) and the proper application of excise duty on alcohol and tobacco.
Since 22 March 2016 and the terrorist attacks in Brussels, missions of anti-terrorist struggles and research have also been added at the request of the federal government.
To fulfil its missions, the staffs have traditional means of transport (motorcycles, cars, vans and trucks).
The availability of B-Hunters by Defence will substantially increase the effectiveness of control operations.
Aerial surveillance of checkpoints will help identify suspicious behaviour and, above all, not to lose track of individuals attempting to escape through the transmission of information and images to the intervention and interception teams at ground.


 The Customs' missions in a few pictures
(Alain Debras ©)

The Memorandum of Understanding

Signed today by the two federal ministers it foresees two parts:
* Operational Component
   By making available      - equipment (ships / aircraft / vehicles
                                       - specialized teams
                                       - staffs
                                       - infrastructure
* Structural component  - training and training of Customs staff
                                       - providing technical knowledge
                                       - providing infrastructure means

The Memorandum of Understanding is signed …
(Alain Debras ©)
By both Ministers
(Alain Debras ©)
 MM. Johan Van Overtveldt (MOF) and Steven Vandeput (MOD)
(Alain Debras ©)
 General-Major Avi Frederik Vansina Air Component Commander
(Alain Debras ©)
M. Julien de Meeüs d'Argenteuil Managing Director of 
Mons Custom Services    (Alain Debras ©)
Operation Ulysses VI
Return on the N5 to Frasnes (Couvin) ...
This is the first collaboration of the Customs with the Defence and the first use of the B-Hunter in surveillance of a road control operation.
From the first mission, the use of the device allowed several interceptions and the repression of several frauds (gasoil, drugs) and the recovery of several unpaid fines.

This system is more efficient than the air support the police could previously provide with its helicopters,
Because the B-Hunter can stay much longer in the air (the whole duration of the mission without interruption), because it is more discreet and very undetectable since it flies at an altitude of +/- 2.5 Km, and its noise is generally covered by that of road traffic.

 Back on the control site …
(Alain Debras ©)
In Frasnes (Couvin) - N5
(Alain Debras ©)
 The B-Hunter in service
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
Strategic discussion between Belgian and French Customs' officers
(Alain Debras ©)
 Two Belgian Customs' officers …The biker
(Alain Debras ©)
And the dog... Two different specialists!
(Alain Debras ©)
 An administrative van
(Alain Debras ©)
Mobile office for the Belgian customs' officers
(Alain Debras ©)
 M. Steven Vandeput (MOD) and a Belgian Customs' officer
(Alain Debras ©)
M. Johan Van Overtveldt (MOF)
(Alain Debras ©)
 Major d'Avi Fabrice Leroy UAV Sqn CO
(Alain Debras ©)
Badge of the Belgian customs' officers
(Alain Debras ©)

SBAP would like to thanks ComOpsAir IPR, the Public Relation team of 2nd Tactical Wing and AGDA for the quality of reception and organization of this press point.


Reports Menu - Homepage