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Belgium agrees to send F-16s to Ukraine, but not until 2025

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MILAN – The Belgian government has announced it will provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets for an undisclosed amount starting in 2025, a decision seen by some as a compromise between the political factions that make up the country’s ruling coalition.

On October 11, Belgium ended the wavering stance it had adopted in recent months on the issue of sending F-16s to Ukraine.

“Belgium will be in a position to supply F-16s to Ukraine starting in 2025,” Prime Minister Alexander Decroo told reporters after a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Brussels.

But the official added that any such decision would need to be approved by the country’s next government after elections next May.

The announcement was originally made by Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder in an interview with local broadcaster Bell RTL on Wednesday, in which she said the details of the deal “depend on Belgium’s new F-35 capacity buildup.” He explained.

According to a press release from the Belgian Ministry of Defense, the contract also includes the training of Ukrainian pilots and mission planners and is scheduled to begin in 2024, with two Belgian companies, Sabena Engineering and Patria Beck. The aircraft will provide essential technical support to F-16 squadrons. . In September, Belgium joined a coalition of 12 other countries offering F-16 courses.

Belgian Defense Ministry spokesman Rodolphe Polis told Defense News that the country currently has 53 F-16s in stock.

In 2018, Brussels signed a multibillion-dollar contract with Lockheed Martin to supply 34 F-35 fighter jets to replace its aging F-16 fleet. However, these delivery schedules have already been delayed.

“In April 2023, Minister Dedonder confirmed that only two of the first four aircraft are scheduled to be delivered in the first quarter of 2024,” said Belgium-based think tank Royal Institute for the Advanced Study of Defense. researcher Alain de Neve told Defense News. . “This means that the transition from the F-16 to the F-35 may face difficulties, while Belgium is unlikely to have an operational aircraft, especially for joint missions in the Baltics. We have an obligation to maintain it.”

Belgium contributes to the surveillance of this airspace as part of NATO’s enhanced alert operations and Baltic air security. The company was also one of the first overseas customers for the F-16, with the first deliveries taking place more than 40 years ago.

News that the fighter jets will not arrive in Ukraine for another two years is deceptive to some observers, as Ukrainian authorities are lobbying hard for these weapons to arrive in Ukraine as soon as possible.

For Mr. de Neve, it is a little surprising that Belgium is being singled out on this issue.

“The decision to send F-16s to Ukraine was based on a compromise between the different political sensibilities that make up the ruling coalition government, as is often the case in Belgium…This could be a complex process. “It’s a fact, it’s synchronized with events,” he said.

But he argues that the deadline needs to be placed in the broader context of other commitments made by F-16 donor countries.

“The Netherlands had indicated its intention to deliver F-16s to Ukraine as of January 2023, but US approval was essential, which was approved in the spring. “This means that 10 months have passed since then and the aircraft has not yet been handed over to the Ukrainian military,” De Neve said.

Government officials have said in recent months that the Russia-Ukraine war is likely to turn into a frozen conflict that could last anywhere from several years to a decade.

Elizabeth Gosselin Maro is Defense News’ Europe correspondent. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in aviation reporting. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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