Since November 2004, the Centre
de Compétence du Matériel Roulant et Armement (CCR&A) / Competentiecentrum
van het Rijdend Materiaal en de Bewapening (CCR&B) better known as the
Arsenal of Rocourt (near Liège) has become the place where most of the
non-MLU upgraded F-16s of the Belgian Air Component are being dismantled.
from use in 2004 of the two last operational non-MLU F-16s marked the end
of an era and sealed the fate of this first generation of Fighting Falcon
in Belgian military service. Operated by the 1st Squadron of Florennes,
the last unit having converted to the MLU F-16, the single-seaters FA-47
and FA-50 landed at Weelde airbase on 21st April 2004 at about 12h00 local
and were immediately transferred to the nearby Defence Depot Centre.
The golden decade
Belgium was one of the
four original European members of the NATO F-16 partnership. The primary
Belgian contractor in the F-16 programme was the Société Anonyme Belge de
Constructions Aéronautiques (Sabca), which at its Gosselies (Charleroi)
was responsible for the final
assembly of the F-16s intended for both Belgian and Danish air forces. The
Pratt & Whitney F-100 engines for the F-16s of all four nations in the
European consortium were manufactured by the Belgian concern Fabrique
Nationale (FN) at Herstal near Liège. The original Belgian order had been
for 116 F-16A/B aircraft including 96 single-seaters and 20 two-seaters.
These aircraft were delivered to the Belgian Air Force between January
1979 and February 1985. At first, they were issued to a Conversion Flight
- that became in September 1987 an OCU squadron - and then replaced the
F-104G Starfighters of 349th "Goedendag" (in 1979) and 350th "Ambiorix"
(in 1980) Squadrons of N°1 Wing at Beauvechain and 23rd "Devil" (in 1981)
and 31st "Tiger" (in 1982) Squadrons of Kleine Brogel based N°10 Wing. A
follow-on batch of 44 F-16s, consisting of 40 single-seaters and four
two-seaters of the more modern Block 15 OCU type, was ordered in February
1983. These aircraft were delivered between 1987 and 1991. They partly
replaced the Air Force's Dassault Mirage 5Bs and re-equipped the 2nd
"Comet" (in 1988) and 1st "Thistle" (in 1990) Squadrons of N°2 Wing of
Lockheed F-16A FA03 used as instructional airframe by the Royal Technical School at Saffraanberg. (Notice the School's badge on the aircraft's tail)
In October 1996, at the peak of the Bosnian crisis and in the framework of
a DATF (Deployable Air Task Force) agreement, the Belgian Air Force F-16s
joined those of the Royal Netherlands Air Force at Villafranca airbase in
northern Italy (operation "Joint Falcon"), participating in NATO
operations over the Balkan. At first limited to four aircraft, the Belgian
detachment rose to as much as twelve F-16s in 1999 for the NATO operations
above Kosovo (operation "Allied Force"). Just before the start of this
conflict the first MLU aircraft - also designated F-16AM/BM - were sent
over to Italy. At that time the fighters were based at Amendola airbase in
Southern Italy and in August 2001 the last F-16s returned home.
In the latest international commitment to date, four Belgian F-16AMs deployed to Zioknaï airbase in Lithuania between 29th March and 1st July 2004 to protect the airspace of the Baltic countries after their adhesion to NATO. Link to full report on operation Baltic Air Policing Here
Defence reorganization plans announced in December 2003 stated that the Belgian F-16 fleet will be gradually reduced to 60 aircraft in 2015. The first phase - a reduction up to 72 aircraft - will take place in 2004-2005, fourteen MLU F-16 are being put on long term storage at Weelde and at their turn are offered for sale. The second phase - a reduction up to 60 aircraft - will take place later in the decade. This means that in 2015 the four remaining combat squadrons will be equipped with 15 aircraft each, of which a total of 12 will be dedicated to NATO reaction forces for deployments. A total of eighteen F-16AM/BM are currently announced for sale by the MoD.
The very toxic
hydrazine is being removed from F-16A FA-48 upon arrival at the Weelde
Well known specially
decorated F-16A FA-25 of 349 Squadron is slowly shedding part at Weelde.
It is rumoured that this aircraft could be a candidate to go on display at
Kleine Brogel airbase.
The various attempts to sell its stored F-16A/Bs on the international market having failed (1), the Belgian Defence and its Air Component (2) decided in late 2004 to start a large spare parts reclamation process in order to enhance the residual value of these aircraft. A total of 31 non-MLU F-16s are concerned by this programme. The spare parts reclamation process will be executed in 2005 at the Major Dufour Barracks, better known as the Arsenal of Rocourt, near Liège. The semi-dismantled airframes - without engine, wings, stabilizers and fin - are transported by road from Weelde Depot. Six aircraft have already been sent to Rocourt last November, twelve have followed the same route on 11 and 13 January and the last thirteen are due in February (see listing below). At Rocourt, the aircraft are carefully dismantled and all valuable parts are recorded and packed, ready for their future customers. A limited number of parts will be recovered by the Air Component (landing gear elements or hydraulic and electric sub-systems) for the maintenance of its operational fleet. The rest would be sold by batches to dealers, technical schools and scrapyards. It is therefore not impossible to imagine that, in an ultimate phase, an individual could purchase a true Belgian F-16 nose section to integrate a flight sim computer.
F-16A FA-51 awaiting its uktimate fate in the Rocourt hangar.
Vincent Pirard/AviaScribe (January 2005)
Last updated 28/12/11 13:39 Daniel Brackx