100 Years Belgian Military Aviation: Exercise Centennial



   On 16 April 1913, King Albert I of Belgium signed the Royal Decree with regard of the creation and organisation of the Military Aviation, consisting of the Vliegerscompagnie/Compagnie des Aviateurs and the Flying School. This decree was published in the Belgian Staatsblad/Moniteur on 20 April 1913 () and was essentially based on a number of proposals formulated by Commandant Mathieu towards the end of 1912, early 1913 for the integration of military aviation into the Belgian Army. At the start of World War I on 3 August 1914 the Vliegerscompagnie/Compagnie des Aviateurs was composed of 5 squadrons, 4 of them being equipped with the JERO/Farman Type Militaire 1913 or JERO/Farman HF.20 while the 5th squadron was essentially grouped eight civilian pilots which were called up for duty together with their own aircraft (Deperdussin, Bleriot, Morane Saulnier) to strengthen the new arm. At war’s end the Aviation Militaire Belge could boost some 200 modern aircraft organised into 12 Squadrons. The 287 military pilots scored a total of 125 aerial victories over enemy balloons and aircraft. No mean result for a small country in the face of the tough German army.

Jero/Farman HF.20 N°2Pilot Fernand Jacquet in JERO-Farman Type Militaire 1913 N° 2  N° 2 during the "Autumn Manoeuvres" in the region between the rivers Sambre and Meuse which started on 25 August 1913.


To celebrate the 100th birthday of the Belgian air arm, Chief of Defence General Van Caelenberge elected to organise a tactical exercise (called “Exercise Centennial”) which has a compact scenario but gives a good representation of what is/was happening in Afghanistan, Libya or Africa.


“Exercise Centennial” Scenario:

In a once peaceful and prosperous country, a few thousand miles from Belgium, irregular rebel forces and organised crime groups are since a couple of years trying to overthrow the democratically elected government by terrorist actions, abductions and acts of ethnic cleansing. When the national security forces were no longer able to prevent the irregular and criminal force from spreading their destabilising influence all over the country and even exporting it to neighbouring countries, the government requested assistance from the United Nations. Upon request of the United Nations Security Council, Belgium and a number of its NATO allies provided security forces to restore and stabilise peace in the country.

HQ CompoundPart of the HQ Compound with a Dingo II multipurpose protected vehicle FAC/FI in the background

Belgian Land Component units provide assistance by training national security forces to combat the irregular forces threatening peace and stability. Other Land and Air Component assets are deployed to provide force protection and support. NATO allies providing air assets are among others France and the Netherlands. The Belgian forces are headquartered in a compound at Beauvechain Air Base. The Air Component is deployed here with F-16 combat aircraft, A109BA multirole helicopters and B-Hunter Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Force protection of the HQ is ensured by troopers of the 2nd Commando Battalion. Reconnaissance and observation means are provided by the Battalion ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) in the form of daylight and infrared capable Pandur Recce & Observation vehicles. Several Land Component units put Forward Air Controllers (FAC) and a MPPV FAC vehicle at the disposal of the HQ.
Pressure on the air base by rebel groups has been increased recently. At this very moment, an attack supported by rocket launches risks to overwhelm the air base protection securing the HQ.

RebelsRebel attack supported by rocket launches risks to overwhelm the air base protection securing the HQ.

A pair of F-16 Ground Close Air Support aircraft is launched to help stopping the attack. A B-Hunter UAV is orbiting the area and keeps its eyes on the air base scrutinising the situation on the ground. When it deteriorates, an air campaign is initiated to protect the own installations and to destroy the enemy’s assets threatening them.

F-16 LaunchGround Close Air Support F-16s are launched, ...

B Hunter UAV orbiting     ... while a B-Hunter UAV is orbiting the area and keeps its eyes on the air base

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the country:

In a first phase of the air campaign, radars, surface-to-air missile systems, communications facilities, ammunition depots and lines of communications to and from an airfields recently captured and occupied by rebel forces are destroyed by F-16 aircraft dropping precision laser and GPS- guided bombs and strafing targets with their internal 20 mm cannon.

F-16 attackingA GCAS F-16 launches flares and rolls in for a strafing attack on the rebels.

Attacks and infiltrations of the HQ by rebel forces are incessant and cause fierce exchanges of fire with the Belgian Force Protection. Upon their request for air support, the pair of scrambled GCAS F-16s on alert is engaged immediately for a Close Air Support mission. They start with a Show of Force – a low pass at high speed – in order to roll back the rebels by intimidation. As this does not yield the desired effect, the Show of Force is followed by kinetic action to stop the approaching rebel forces. As the intervention by the F-16s has achieved the desired effect, the rebel attacks are coming to an end. It now becomes important to reinforce the compound’s security plan by sending in additional troop.

Lockheed C-130H Hercules CH-04 performing an Assault Landing bringing in a Compagnie of Paratroopers.

In the first instance, Special Forces are inserted by jumping from Hercules transport aircraft. Additional troops are inserted into the theatre by A109BA and Sea King helicopters under a protective umbrella of AH-64 Apache combat helicopters. Finally a Compagnie of Paratroopers is flown in by C-130H. During its Assault Landing, the C-130H – a high value asset – gets airborne protection from a pair of F-16s orbiting above the theatre in a Combat Air Patrol.

Agusta's and ApacheAdditional troops are brought in aboard Agusta A109BA helicopters under the protective cover of a KLu AH-64 Apache combat helicopter.

SeakingParatroopers descending by rope from a Seaking helicopter (soon this task will be taken over by the NH90 TTH - see also HERE)

The GCAS F-16s on alert have now flown more than an hour and require extra fuel to continue their airborne alert mission for another 1 to 3 hours. Air-to-air refuelling of the combat jets will be performed by a KDC10 tanker of the Royal Netherlands Air Force and a KC-135F of the French Air Force.


KDC-10KDC10 tanker (T-264) of the Royal Netherlands Air Force providing much needed air-to-air refueling service.

During the entire course of the combat, the Offensive Counter Air (OCA) part with its airfield attacks, air interdiction and close air support missions is continuously supported by a Defensive Counter Air (DCA) part consisting of Combat Air Patrols and Quick Reaction Alert aircraft providing protection against threats. An E-3A Early Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft provide the DCA part with clear picture of all aircraft present over the theatre and gives guidance to intercept possible air threats.


AWACSA NATO E-3A Early Warning And Control System (AWACS) protected by a Belgian F-16AM

Unfortunately, a number of casualties have been reported. As soon as the security situation allows so, the Force Protection calls for Airborne Medical evacuation, which is performed by an A109BA helicopter under close protection by armed helicopters.

Medevac AgustaMEDEVAC configured Agusta A109BA H-26 evacuating some casualties...


...while the Boeing AH-64D Apache of the KLu is always nearby the provide protection.

Belgian Defence has successfully and realistically demonstrated a two day combat situation in this 1.5 hour Joint Power Demo “Exercise Centennial”. This exercise clearly illustrated the high degree of interoperability between the different own Components and our allied nations, something that was already tested out (although on a modest scale) shortly after the creation of the Vliegerscompagnie/Compagnie des Aviateurs, when Belgian observers flew together with French pilots, later culminating in the Escadrille Franco/Belge C74.

Happy birthday Belgian Air Force!

Shape of things to come



A glance into the future was provided by the fly by of an Airbus A400M transporter, 7 of which are ordered by the Belgian Government to replace the still potent C-130H Hercules which has been in service for 43 years.











©  Daniel & Kris Brackx (September 2013)






Last updated 07/11/11 10:59   Daniel Brackx