Rocourt: where Falcons go to die

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.

The withdrawal 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) plant, 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 Florennes.

From 1981 onward, 35 early-production Belgian F-16s were rotated back through the Sabca factory for cockpit modifications and some updating of the avionics. The Belgian aircraft differs also slightly from those of other NATO nations, having been retrofitted in the mid-nineties with an internal ESD Carapace ECM system. Following the withdrawal of Belgium's Mirage 5BR reconnaissance aircraft from service in 1994, a handful of F-16As of N° 2 Wing were modified to carry an under fuselage camera pod.

The post Cold War changes

Along with the Fighting Falcons serving with other European members of the F-16 partnership, Belgian F-16s were scheduled to go through a Mid-Life Update (MLU) during the mid-1990s. But the early 90's saw a drastic reduction of the Belgian military budget, the politicians desperately wanted to cash in on the so-called peace dividend to stabilize the Belgian public finance. It was therefore decided that from 1996 the Air Force could do with 90 operational aircraft and 18 spares by reducing its F-16 wings from three to two with a total of six combat squadrons aligning 12 aircraft each. The N°1 Wing of Beauvechain disbanded on 4th March 1996, N° 349th Sqn and the OCU being transferred to 10 Wing at Kleine Brogel and the N° 350th Sqn to 2 Wing of Florennes.

An agreement on the MLU was finalized on 26th January 1993 between the European and US members of the Multinational Fighter Program. After fierce debates - the initial Belgian MLU order concerned only 48 aircraft! - it was step by step decided that all the 90 operational aircraft (72 single-seaters and 18 two seaters) had to go through the MLU as the cost of maintaining two different types of F-16s would have been too high. It was also decided to keep operational ten of the non-MLU F-16A/B as a reserve for the units until the completion of the MLU programme.

In 1994 and 1995 a total of 31 redundant airframes were placed in long term storage at the former USAFE logistic Centre of Weelde, adjacent to the NATO reserve airfield of the same name in the Province of Antwerp and at the same time they were put up for sale. A handful of these aircraft was later given to the Royal Technical School of Saffraanberg as instructional airframes and to the Royal Army Museum / Aironautical department at Brussels and the Lallemand Memorial at Florennes (see list below).

F-16A FA-03 at Saffraanberg

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.

Late 2001, to face new budgetary constraints and in the light of its recent combat experience, the Air Force decided a new reorganization of its combat element (named Falcon 2000) disbanding two of its F-16 squadrons and redistributing their assets to the other existing F-16 units. The "victims" were the 2nd (in April 2001) and the 23rd (in March 2002) Squadrons.

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

The beginning of the end


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 storage facility

The completion of the MLU programme lead in 2003-2004 to the withdrawal from use of the last operational non MLU F-16s.

F-16A FA-25 at 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-02 arriving at Rocourt

Lockheed F-16A FA-02 arriving at Rocourt by spedcial transport convoy on 13 January 2005

F-16A FA-51 at Rocourt

F-16A FA-51 awaiting its uktimate fate in the Rocourt hangar.

In a more positive way, it's worthwhile to quote that the current Air Component F-16 fleet is as operational as ever thanks to - limited - investments in modern weapons systems (AIM-120 AMRAAM air to air missiles, laser guided TAGM-65 Mavericks air to ground missiles and GBU-10/-12/-24/-31s bombs), targeting (AN-AAQ-14), ECM (AN/ALQ-131) and reconnaissance (MRP) pods.
As follow up to its Defence White Paper 2003, the Belgian government has also decided in late 2004 on small investments in the framework of the F-16 European Participating Air Forces partnership. This means that the Air Component MLU F-16s are integrating soon new technologies that will ensure them the latest combat capabilities - mostly through Lockheed Martin developed software. Further investments should include the purchase of new GBU kits, targeting pods as Hemet Mounted Cueing System (HMCS).

Vincent Pirard/AviaScribe  (January 2005)

  To Slovakia in 2000, Hungary and Poland in 2001, Jordan in 2002 and Czech Republic in 2003.
(2)  Belgian Defence Air Component is the new designation of the Belgian unified flying military assets since the introduction of the new Defence structure on 1st January 2002. (follow this link to the Belgian Defence Air Assets Orbat)



BELGIAN F-16 fleet on 20/03/2005

Operational - 2 & 10 W - or SABCA (73 a/c)

F-16AM (56 a/c)
FA-56, FA-57, FA-67, FA-68, FA-69, FA-70, FA-71, FA-72, FA-77, FA-81, FA-82, FA-83, FA-84, FA-86, FA-87, FA-89, FA-91, FA-92, FA-94, FA-95, FA-97, FA-98, FA-99, FA-100, FA-101, FA-102, FA-103, FA-104, FA-106, FA-107, FA-108, FA-109, FA-110, FA-111, FA-114, FA-115, FA-116,
FA-117, FA-118, FA-119, FA-120, FA-121, FA-123, FA-124, FA-125, FA-126, FA-127, FA-128, FA-129, FA-130, FA-131, FA-132, FA-133, FA-134, FA-135, FA-136

F16BM (17 a/c)
FB-01, FB-02, FB-04, FB-05, FB-08, FB-09, FB-10, FB-12, FB-14, FB-15,
FB-17, FB-18, FB-20, FB-21, FB-22, FB-23, FB-24

Two upgraded F-16s should be soon send on long term storage at Weelde.

Rocourt for dismantling (31 a/c)

F-16A (30 a/c)
FA-02, FA-09, FA-10, FA-16, FA-17, FA-18, FA-19, FA-20, FA-21, FA-23, FA-26, FA-27, FA-28, FA-30, FA-31,
FA-32, FA-34, FA-36, FA-37, FA-40, FA-43, FA-45, FA-46, FA-47, FA-48, FA-49, FA-50, FA-51, FA-53, FA-55

F-16B (01 a/c)

Weelde Storage Centre (15 a/c)

F-16A (03 a/c)
 FA-22, FA-25, FA-44

Three F-16As to be tranferred to the military bases and schools as display or technical airframes. The FA-25 is reported to go to Kleine Brogel AB and the FA-44 to Florennes AB. All infos still to be confirmed...

F-16AM (12 a/c)
FA-58, FA-60 (damaged on 20/04/2004), FA-61, FA-65, FA-66, FA-73, FA-74, FA-75, FA-76, FA-78, FA-88, FA-90

F-16BM (02 a/c)
 FB-01, FB-08

Museums (02 a/c)

- Brussels Royal Army Museum / Air Section: FA-01
- Lallemand Memorial at Florennes AB: FA-04

Tech + PR airframes (04 a/c)

- Royal Technical School of Saffraanberg: FA-03, FB-03
- Mobile recruiting object (usually stored at Beauvechain AB): FA-05
- Dismantled elements (didactical?) at Kleine-Brogel AB: FA-38

Written-Off (35 a/c)

F-16A (26 a/c)
FA-06 (02/09/1985), FA-07 (10/11/1983), FA-08 (28/07/1980),
FA-11 (12/03/1981), FA-12 (18/10/1989), FA-13 (10/05/1983),
FA-14 (19/01/1982), FA-15 (17/11/1988), FA-24 (29/04/1985),
FA-29 (22/10/1981), FA-33 (19/08/1986), FA-35 (19/01/1982),
FA-39 (23/03/1999), FA-41 (10/11/1983), FA-42 (09/10/1986),
FA-52 (19/09/1987), FA-54 (18/10/1989), FA-59 (20/09/1983),
FA-62 (17/11/1988), FA-63 (14/09/1987), FA-64 (07/09/1993),
FA-79 (30/06/1986), FA-80 (29/04/1997), FA-85 (25/10/1989),
FA-105 (05/09/1989), FA-113 (12/05/1995 - on Display Beauvechain AB Museum)

F-16B  (04 a/c)
FB-06 (14/07/1989), FB-11 (23/06/1993), FB-13 (09/01/1992),
FB-16 (19/09/1984)

F-16AM (04 a/c)
FA-93 (09/12/2003), FA-96 (08/01/2002), FA-112 (09/09/2005), FA-122 (09/12/2003)

F-16BM (01 a/c)
FB-19 (24/04/2002)

Thirty-one Non-MLU F-16s transferred to 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):

Batch 1  (6 a/c)
FA-10 (processing prototype), FA-21, FA-28, FA-40, FA-43 (on 23/11/2004)
FA-34 (on 25/11/2004)

Batch 2 (12 a/c)
FA-20, FA-23, FA-32, FA-45, FA-51, FA-53 (on 11/01/2005)
FA-02, FA-09, FA-26, FA-30, FA-31, FA-37 (on 13/01/2005)

Batch 3 (13 a/c)
A-47, FB-07 on 14/02/2005
FA-27, FA-55 on 15/02/2005
FA-19, FA-50 on 16/02/2005
FA-36, FA-46 on 17/02/2005
FA-18, FA-49 on 18/02/2005
FA-17, FA-48 on 21/02/2005
FA-16 on 22/02/2005




Last updated 28/12/11 13:39   Daniel Brackx