Minister of Defence, Steven Vandeput, was questioned in the House about the replacement of the F-16s and the statements made by Prime Minister Charles Michel. The Prime Ministe declared that the extension of the life of the F-16s and the French offer, which falls outside the current procedure, will also be considered in the final decision.
There is no new study planned on the life extension of the fighters Vandeput told House representatives on Wednesday morning. In a series of hearings in the Defence Committee, serious reservations were made about maintaining them past their normal flight life. Experts from Lockheed Martin and the US Air Force said that no one ever considered using devices as old as the Belgian F-16s. According to Vandeput it would cost an additional 271 million euro to extend the life of the F-16s by six years. Those findings were conclusive for him.
Declarations by Vandeput and his party chairman Bart De Wever that the Rafale should be excluded, only added oil to the fire. Committee President and fellow NV-A member, Karolien Grosemans, added even more today. According to her, the choice of a jet fighter that is not part of the ongoing procedure would “implicate Belgium in an unprecedented international scandal.”
Vandeput said, at the moment, he could only judge the Rafale on the information he has, which is not much. It consists of a three-page letter from the French Defence Minister, Florence Parly, and a presentation of some forty pages recently given to him by representatives of her cabinet. “The government has asked me to request additional information from the French, which I did. A week later I repeated my request. But I still have not received further information,” Vandeput said.
Wouter De Vriendt, a Green member of parliament, dealt a major blow to the French proposal, which has support among the French-speaking parties. “The French have put themselves out of the running. To say that they were treated unfairly is a stretch,” says De Vriendt. He added that “the entire procedure is “kaduuk” (ed. null and void). “Minister, you no longer have any other options: suspend that purchase. Let us spend that money on a European defence project. Either the French-German aircraft in the medium term, or by beefing up the navy. Gaps in our air capacity can be resolved by making agreements with other countries.”
The government will make a decision, but no timeframe has been established, according to Vandeput. “The acquisition procedure continues and the government will make a final decision taking into account all the elements,” including the equipment, the potential partnership and the economic impact.