Belgium boosts army with some 30 new helicopters

Belgium boosts army with some 30 new helicopters
Defence minister Ludivine Dedonder during a visit of the Belgian army detachment in Romania, earlier this year. Credit: Belga.

In response to Russia's war in Ukraine and NATO requirements, Belgium is beefing up its military capacities with the arrival of new fighter jets and soon new helicopters as well.

Thanks to plans by Defence Minister Ludovine Dedonder, the army's operational abilities are being reinforced.

"We will acquire 15 light helicopters fairly quickly," said Lieutenant-General Frédéric Goetynck, adding that this type of aircraft is "essentially intended for ground support of our operations: medical evacuation and support of special forces operations."

"The objective is to buy less expensive helicopters equipped for search and to keep the army's NH90s equipped with high technology and a lot of radar for naval support functions."

The new helicopter supplies will also include the acquisition of heavy transport helicopters in order to deploy a company of para-commandos or special forces from one point to another with a fairly large range, according to Goetynck.

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Buying new helicopters also means replacing the NH90, an aircraft that does not meet expectations, at least in its land version. Goetynck explained that as a European aircraft, its development and modernisation are very expensive.

It has the potential to become an excellent aircraft for the Belgian army but as it is not readily available, it is not a good option at present. However, buying army gear is also a political decision.

Economic gains

Dedonder has not hidden the fact that she prefers buying European equipment in order to encourage economic returns to Belgian companies if possible, but supplies can be an issue: for small and medium capacity helicopters, there are existing aircraft. But for larger capacity aircraft, it is more complicated, according to Goetynck.

"There are effectively no European candidates identified," said Goetynck. "We are looking. It is true that a European orientation is preferable for economic returns and for interoperability with our allies. But we must not close the door to other markets."

"Sometimes it is better to buy American because the effect of scale is greater and allows us to get better prices. Once again, we will propose candidates and the politicians will decide."

Despite the will to require new military capabilities and a budget of €1 billion, the army is cautious. Operating and maintaining a fleet of helicopters requires personnel that Belgium's army is lacking.

"We may have to postpone purchases for this reason," said the general."We are not going to buy helicopters that should stay in the garage. We need to be sure that the units will have the personnel to put the equipment to work."

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