Text: Serge Van Heertum - Pictures: Serge Van Heertum, ComOpsAir IPR - Translation: Marc Arys  ©sbap 2020
  
On Tuesday 29 September, in the presence of General Major Thierry Dupont, Chief of Staff of the Air Component and the King's Aide de Camp, and Colonel Aviator Philippe Goffin, Commander of the Florennes base, four F-16AM's left Florennes airbase bound for the Middle East, as part of the "Inherent Resolve" (IOR) operation of the international coalition against the Islamic State.
The departure of the Belgian contingent to the Middle East follows the government's decision of June 26th, 2020. Belgium's commitment falls within the framework of Resolution 2249 of the United Nations Security Council established in 2015, which refers to the global threat posed by Daesh to international peace and security. The government's decision provides for an operational commitment for a period of one year.
A detachment of around 125 Belgian military personnel will support the deployment of the aircraft and all the members of this detachment have been deployed to the region in recent weeks. Their specialties are varied and include pilots, technicians, members of the protection forces, support staff, medical personnel and many others.
Prior to the deployment, all members of the detachment were placed in corona quarantine as required by the measures issued by the health board. The first rotation consists mainly of personnel from Florennes airbase, and a rotation every two months alternating with the Kleine Brogel base is planned.
This new deployment proves necessary to avoid a resurgence of the Islamic State (IS) and Belgium undertakes to intervene in support of the coalition ground forces.
 
Major General Thierry Dupont, Air Component Commander since September 17th
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Colonel Avi Philippe Goffin, Commander of the 2nd Tactical Wing
(Serge Van Heertum©)
 
What does the government decision of June 26th, 2020 consist of?
On the proposal of the Minister of Defence Philippe Goffin, the Council of Ministers agreed on an operational deployment over Iraq and north-east Syria from October 2020, as part of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) to combat Da'esh.
The Defence has proposed a deployment of four F-16AM aircraft and a support detachment of around 125 troops to a base in the Middle East relatively close to the theatre of operations, starting in early October 2020 for a period of one year. To coordinate and validate the operations of the fighter aircraft sent by Belgium, a Red Card Holder team consisting of four military personnel is being deployed to a base in Qatar. The purpose of this center is to validate the interventions requested to the Belgian contingent and verify that these requests are within the framework of the assigned missions, both from an operational as a legal point of view.
Belgian F-16AM's are deployed to protect coalition forces and continue to fight Da'esh in Iraq and north-east Syria. The basic missions will mainly focus on reconnaissance and security in support of the coalition forces, but may also involve the fighters and pilots in ground attack missions against enemy targets and it is more than obvious that every effort will be made to avoid collateral damage.
  
(Serge Van Heertum©)
 
What is UN Resolution 2249?
United Nations Security Council Resolution 2249 was unanimously adopted by the United Nations Security Council on 20 November 2015. Through this resolution, drafted by France, the Security Council concluded that the Islamic State had become an unprecedented threat to world peace and security. It also condemned the numerous attacks perpetrated by the terrorist group in 2015. The member States were called upon to take all necessary measures to combat Islamic State groups and the Front al-Nosra, as well as other Al-Qaida-related organizations designated by the Security Council, in order to suppress terrorism by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The global coalition against Da'esh includes 77 signatory states and 5 international organizations.
The resolution describes 5 areas of action (4 civilian and 1 military)
- Stabilizing territories freed from the IS yoke
- Setting up a counter-propaganda in Da'esh
- Put in place a movement limitation against the "Foreign Terrorist Fighters".
- Drying up the Islamic State and Da'esh financially
- Operate constant military pressure (7/7 - 24/24) (Operation Inherent Resolve - IOR)
 
The UN resolution 2249
(UN document via web)
Operation Inherent Resolve IOR state members
(IOR via web)
 
What is Belgium's commitment?
The operation led by Belgium within the framework of UN Resolution 2249, has been codenamed "Operation Desert Falcon" (ODF). ODF 2020 - 2021 will be the third Belgian F-16AM operation in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

ODF 01: September 2014 - June 2015
ODF 02: June 2016 - December 2017
ODF 03: September 2020 - September 2021

The F-16AM's sent to the Middle East (2 effective + 2 reserve) are responsible for carrying out three types of mission:

- Close Air Support to protect coalition ground forces.
- Armed Reconnaissance to collect images for intelligence services.
- Air Interdiction (precision strikes on key capabilities of the Islamic state).

The main area of operation is Iraq and a small part of Syria which is not under the control of the local government.

 
The four Belgian F-16AM sent on a Middle East airbase to support the IOR coalition against IS 
(Serge Van Heertum©)
The belgian F-16's operation area indicating sensitive points held by Da'esh
(Serge Van Heertum©)
ODF 2020-2021 is the third belgian aerial involvment in the IOR
(Comopsair IPR / M. Moors©)
 
What is the "Red Card Holder"?
The national "Red Card Holder" plays a key role in the air operations assigned to Belgium. It is located at the coalition operations headquarters at Al Udeid air base in Qatar. He usually is a F-16 pilot himself and assesses each mission in terms of compliance with the rules of engagement of the multinational coalition and the additional national caveats established by the Belgian government. Not only missions that are planned in advance, but also missions that are modified during the flight are evaluated by the "Red Card Holder" before they are executed. He is assisted by an intelligence specialist and a legal advisor. They often have a real-time view of the target thanks to coalition UAV's.
The pilot's role: Even if a mission has been assigned against a target that has been assessed as a legitimate military objective, the pilot does not execute it blindly. He always assesses the target with his own eyes before attacking it to avoid unwanted collateral damage or civilian casualties.
 
Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar
(Courtesy U.S. Air Force / DR©)
Another view of the CAOC were the Belgian RCH are located
(Courtesy U.S. Air Force / Sgt. Joshua Strang©)
 
Air means
These are the good old F-16A MLU (Mid-Life Update) F-16AM's, which are deployed as part of Operation Desert Falcon (ODF). Despite its age, the F-16AM remains a multifunctional fighter aircraft with a variety of sensors and armaments to carry out a range of missions such as reconnaissance, precision bombardment and air-air combat if necessary. The F-16AM will remain the backbone of the Belgian Air Force for a few more years before the new F-35A fighter enters operational service.
 
Aerial assets general view
(Comopsair IPR)
  
Armements et Protection
 
Lockheed Martin F-16AM in ODF configuration
(Serge Van Heertum©)
 
M61 Vulcan Gun:
The F-16AM is equipped with a 20 mm gun that can be used against both air and ground targets. The gun can be loaded with 511 20mm shells and the rate of fire can reach 100 rounds per second.
 
The muzzle and protection of the M61 Vulcan gun
(Serge Van Heertum©)
 
Hughes AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile):
This is a medium-range missile initially fired at its target using the F-16AM's on-board radar. Once fired, it is the mini-radar integrated in the nose of the missile that regains control and ensures interception. This guidance mode allows the pilot, after firing, to turn away from the enemy aircraft and remain out of range of hostile missiles. This is commonly known as Fire and Forget.

Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder:
This is an infrared guided missile. Unlike the AIM-120, this missile does not carry a radar but seeks the heat emitted by the nozzle of the enemy aircraft. Its maneuverability combined with the pilot's high-tech helmet (JHMCS) makes this rocket extremely effective in close aerial combat.

 
Hughes AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile)
(Serge Van Heertum©)
 
Air-to-Ground Weapons
For ground attacks, the Belgian Air Force has a multitude of intelligent weapons with various guidance systems (GPS or laser guidance) and of varying sizes (110Kg, 230Kg and 900Kg). These weapons are equipped with a programmable ignition mechanism to generate the desired effects depending on the objective. Smart weapons are essentially free-fall bombs (also known as stupid bombs) equipped with a laser and/or GPS sensor and steering vanes.

Laser-guided weapons (GBU-12 / GBU-10 / GBU-24):
When using these weapons, the pilot will point the target using the laser pointer integrated into the camera on board the sniper pod. The weapon will aim at the target using the reflected laser energy.

GPS-guided weapons (GBU-38 / GBU-31):
These weapons are equipped with a GPS antenna. The pilot loads the coordinates of the target in the weapon before firing. Thanks to the GPS signals, the weapon knows exactly where it is and can make the necessary trajectory modifications to reach its designated target.

Dual-mode-weapons (GBU-54):
They are called "dual-mode weapons" because they are capable of locating their target using either laser guidance or GPS signals. The combination of these two techniques ensures that this weapon is extremely accurate when attacking targets moving at high speed.

GBU-39 SDB "Small Diameter Bomb":
Is a newcomer to the Belgian Air Force arsenal; the first weapons of this type were delivered at the beginning of 2019. This GPS-guided bomb is relatively small, weighing a mere 110 kg and differs from other GPS-guided weapons, on the one hand, by its small, but extremely effective bomb, with an explosive charge of 17kg, and on the other hand, by its long range capability. Winglets deploy when the weapon is released, allowing it to glide and travel great distances. This allows the pilot to attack his target without being within the range of the enemy's anti-aircraft means. The use of a small explosive charge also reduces the possibility of potential collateral damage. Because of its small size, an F-16AM can carry up to eight of these GBU-39.

 
GBU-31 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) (Mk-84 + GPS guidance system and an inertial navigation system (INS))
(Serge Van Heertum©)
GBU-54 LJDAM (Mk 82 + DSU-38/B dual mode guidance system)
(Serge Van Heertum©)
GBU-12 (Mk82 + Laser guidance kit Paveway II)
(Serge Van Heertum©)
GBU-39 SDB "Small Diameter Bomb"
(Serge Van Heertum©)
 

AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Targeting Pod :
This pod is in fact a designator that can also be used for reconnaissance missions. The Sniper Pod is mounted on the right side of the air intake and can operate in day or night mode. The images taken by this sensor can be viewed by the pilot on his on-board displays. The onboard camera in the pod is "geostabilised" and can remain focused on the same point despite the speed, attitude and altitude of the aircraft. The camera is controlled by means of a mini-joystick. A laser designator is also integrated into the camera for guiding the offensive weapons.

 
AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Targeting Pod and a detail view front of the pod
(Serge Van Heertum©)
 
AN/ALQ-131 (V) block II:
In addition to their passive self-protection system, the F-16's of the Belgian Air Component can carry an AN/ALQ-131 (V) block II radar pod. This pod, designed by the American firm Northrop Grumman, has in recent years become the standard protection and jamming system within the NATO Air Force. The ALQ-131 is composed of several modules, the main ones being :
- the signal reception and analysis module, which identifies and sorts the signals emitted by the adversary on three frequency bands.
- the transmitter module, which amplifies these signals to scramble fire control radars.
The system allows, while activating the jamming mode, to continue to receive and monitor the opponent's frequencies.
Finally, the pod contains a database of radar signals from systems that are likely to be encountered by the pilots during their missions.
 
AN/ALQ-131 (V) block II mounted on the centerline of the fuselage
(Serge Van Heertum©)
 
AN/ALE-40 Counter Measure Dispenser System (CMDS):
The Belgian F-16AM's are equipped with two AN/ALE-40 type decoy launchers placed under the fuselage, each of which can hold 60 electromagnetic decoys (chaffs) or 30 thermal decoys (flares) or a combination of 30 chaffs and 15 flares. The cartridges can be released in bursts at a rate of ten chaffs per second or one by one.
The Belgian Air Force has had its F-16AM's equipped, on stations 3 and/or 7, with load-carrying pylons modified to house the PIDS (Pylon Integrated Dispenser Station) system. This Danish-designed system is manufactured by the Per Udsen company. The system is compatible with an aircraft-integrated decoy launcher and can carry up to 180 cartridges on both pylons. The ejection is done laterally.
 
AN/ALE-40 Counter Measure Dispenser System (CMDS). Left the one located at under side of the plane and right the system integrated on the pylon
(Serge Van Heertum©)
 

Dassault Carapace self-protection guidance system:
The Carapace system is built around four independent reception channels, each with its own characteristics. The signals emitted by these four channels are, after correlation, sent to the central computer, where they are compared for identification. Identification is made thanks to a database loaded into the aircraft's flight system. After identification and location by the computer, the threat is visually transmitted to the pilot via a screen with an accuracy of 1 or 2 degrees. The system automatically proposes the appropriate countermeasures, such as the ejection of EM decoys (electromagnetic/chain) to disrupt radar emissions or thermal cartridges (flares) to decoy infrared guided missiles.

 
The visible parts of the Carapace system, left the forward antenna under the air intake and right the rear antenna located in the drag chute fairing
(Serge Van Heertum©)
 

The Ferry Flight of the four aircraft from Belgium to the area of operations took place on September 29th. In fact, a total of five aircraft took off from Florennes airbase between 10:56 and 10:58 local time, the four aircraft designated for the ODF operation and a fifth spare aircraft, in case of technical problems during the flight to the Middle East.
In order to be able to carry out the flight non-stop, the Belgian Air Force has made use of a KC-135 refuelling aircraft from the French Air Force. To reach their destination, the F-16AM's needed two in-flight refuels. The first overhead Southern France and the second over Greece. The aircraft remained in formation with the French tanker over the Mediterranean Sea through the French, Italian and Greek airspace.
The spare aircraft left the formation, as planned, as soon as the first refuelling was completed and headed back to Belgium where it landed at around 14 :00 local time. After the second refueling over Greece, the French tanker returned to its home base at Istres (France).
The four Belgian planes continued their flight through Cypriot and Israeli airspace. After a flight of some 4 hours 45 minutes, the Belgian pilots landed at their final destination.

 
The September 29th ferry flight plan
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Pilot view during air refueling
(Comopsair IPR / DR©)
 
September 29th,2020: ODF 2020-2021 Ferry Flight
 
The flight line
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Day is coming...
(Serge Van Heertum©)
...and the morning dew of September is present
(Serge Van Heertum©)

Falcon tail and weathering...
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Some are already waiting for action
(Serge Van Heertum©)
The Fighting Falcon in its Ardennes habitat
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Pilot installed, ready for start up
(Serge Van Heertum©)
The pilot's partner, the crew chief
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Preparing for the long ferry flight
(Serge Van Heertum©)
No touch during crew chief control
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Check list process
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Engines are running
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Excellent water camouflage
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Externation control during starting process
(Serge Van Heertum©)
They all will be ready in few minutes
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Flight line activities
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Awaiting the clearance
(Serge Van Heertum©)
the shy autumnal sun of Belgium...
(Serge Van Heertum©)
...will soon be replaced by the desert sun
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Painting has lived well
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Under the watchful eye of the mechanic Chief
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Clearance for taxi, lights on!
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Here they go
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Nice flight and safe landing in the Middle-East
(Serge Van Heertum©)
On the way to the holding point
(Serge Van Heertum©)
A last Crew-Chief ballet
(Serge Van Heertum©)
The last one leaving the parking
(Serge Van Heertum©)



The four ODF 2020-2021 dedicated planes at take off
(Serge Van Heertum©)
Followed by the reserve aircraft that came back from South of France around 14:00 local time the same day
(Serge Van Heertum©)
 

Ready to support the coalition
(Comopsair IPR / M. Moors©)
Desert Falcon Pilot, their job? Our safety!
(Comopsair IPR / De Cloedt©)
 

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