Belgian warship excluded from NATO exercise because crew are under-trained

Belgian warship excluded from NATO exercise because crew are under-trained
The Leopold I © Belga handout

The Belgian frigate Leopold I remains dockside at Den Helder in the north of the Netherlands this weekend, after being rejected for participation in a NATO exercise because the crew are under-trained.

A naval officer, who declined to be identified, told VRT news the incident was, “Unheard of, a failure for our navy.”

Just last week the defence ministry was boasting that the ship would be taking part in the joint naval exercise 'Joint Warrior' with the youngest crew ever deployed. The crew consists of 65% of members under the age of 35 years.

“Ships, submarines, aircraft, helicopters and ground troops will participate in Joint Warrior” the ministry said in a statement.

“As a result, the ships involved not only learn to work together, but also train together in the highest spectrum of warfare.”

But before the exercise could begin, it became clear the young crew had not had sufficient training to allow them to take part.

"We are partly the victim of the new young guard that had to be prepared very quickly," said Oliver Vogels, spokesperson for the navy.

“'In addition, everyone who is deployed on a ship must be able to perform two to three functions. So that requires two to three times more training from the young sailors.”

Now the ship is docked, and there are some red faces.

“This kind of exercises is unique for a crew. It is unprecedented that the Leopold I was not able to join,” one officer told De Tijd.

Older sailors are retiring from the service at a dangerously high rate, and they are not being sufficiently replaced by new recruits.

'We have to recruit new recruits like crazy and train them properly according to defence minister Ludivine Dedonder, but you need trainers and, above all, time for that. And those things are often missing.”

“The crew has received extra training and drills over the past three weeks,” said Vogels.

“We have brought in extra trainers with a lot of experience.”

The service now hopes the Leopold I can sail next week and possibly join the other ships in the exercise.

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