Changing The Guard

Badge worn by Belgian personnel participating in ISAF under Operation Guardian Falcon in 2008-2009

Operation Guardian Falcon is now in the sixth month of its mission to Afghanistan in support of the NATO-led UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Rotation 1 (OGF 1) operated from Kandahar Airfield (KAF) from early September 2008 till almost mid-January 2009. The 30-strong advance party of Rotation 2 (OGF 2) left on January 5th and was followed by the 70-strong main force on January 10th. The four F-16AM combat aircraft too were replaced in the past weeks and days.    



On September 1st, 2008, four Belgian Air Component F-16AM aircraft (FA-69, FA-114, FA-117 and FA-130) left Florennes Airbase for Kandahar Airfield, where they arrived the next day. During their stay in Afghanistan, each of these aircraft flew around 50 hours per month in the ground support role. They returned to Kleine-Brogel Airbase in two pairs, on January 24th and February 21st, not only to undergo planned major maintenance, but also to be replaced by aircraft equipped with the recently acquired Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS).


Lockheed Martin F-16AM FA-69 and FA-114 returned to Kleine-Brogel Airbase on February 21st, 2009, after being replaced by FA-104 and FA-129 the previous day.


Lockheed Martin F-16AM FA-83 and FA-127 were ferried to Afghanistan as replacement aircraft for FA-117 and FA-130. The former is seen here landing at Kleine-Brogel Airbase in the late afternoon of January 24th, 2009. For the ferry flight, it was equipped with a pair of Sargent-Fletcher 370 US gallon (1,400 litres) underwing fuel tanks and a centreline travel pod.

The use of a helmet mounted cueing system is one of the improvements that go with the M4 phase of the F-16’s Mid-Life Update (MLU-M4) programme. The first Video Systems International JHMCSs were delivered to the Belgian Air Component in 2008 and making the aircraft JHMCS-compatible is at present in full swing as is pilot training.


The JHMCS is connected to the aircraft’s radar and weapon system and projects the most critical flight and target data graphically on the pilot’s visor. It improves situational awareness, flight safety and combat efficiency as the pilot can continue flying safely and fighting effectively without regularly having to check critical flight and target data on the Head-up Display (HUD) or in the cockpit. Improved combat effectiveness also reduces the risk of collateral damage, a major concern for Belgian military and political leaders. The JHMCS adds to the strict rules of engagement, the graduated response, the utilization of high precision targeting pods and the use of smart bombs with small explosive charges and cannon ammunition with improved accuracy to avoid unwished-for damage to the Afghan population and infrastructure.


Lockheed Martin F-16AM FA-83, 98 and 127 lined-up at the holding point of Kleine-Brogel Airbase’s runway 23 just prior to their ferry flight to Kandahar Airfield in the early morning of January 23rd, 2009. FA-98 was the airborne spare and returned to Florennes Airbase after a first successful dry hook-up over Germany with a KDC-10 tanker aircraft of No. 334 Squadron of the Koninklijke Luchtmacht. During the approximately 7 hours long ferry flight, the Dutch KDC-10 refuelled the remaining two Belgian F-16s five times. The aircraft are the first ever Belgian JHMCS-compatible F-16s participating in a military operation.

 Ready for take-off are Lockheed Martin F-16AM FA-104 and FA-129, the aircraft that flew from Kleine-Brogel Airbase to Kandahar Airfield on February 20th, 2009, to relief FA-69 and FA-114. FA-86 acted as airborne spare.

The first pair of JHMCS-compatible F-16AM-4 aircraft, FA-83 and FA-127, left Kleine-Brogel Airbase on January 23rd. About seven hours and five in-flight refuellings by a Royal Netherlands Air Force KDC-10 later, the combat jets arrived at KAF. FA-117 and FA-130 returned the next day to Kleine-Brogel. In a similar way, FA-104 and FA-129 replaced FA-69 and FA-114 on February 20th and 21st.


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Text and pictures by

© Jos Schoofs (February 2009)

Last updated 26/02/09 08:00   Daniel Brackx