Interview with Lieutenant General Rudy Debaene, National Armament Director of the Ministry of Defence of Belgium.
ESD: In many western countries, the changed security-political situation in Europe has induced governments to allocate additional funds for defence and armament. To what extent and in what way has this trend influenced things in your country?
LtGen Debaene: Of course, Belgium follows this mainstream as we are part of Europe and the European security environment. But next to the trigger of the changing security situation, as our legacy systems are slowly reaching their end of life, Belgium needed to invest in new major equipment to be prepared for the future. Other elements that influenced the strategic investment plan are the shortfalls that are/were identified within NATO and within the European Defence arena: tanker aircraft, MALE drones, unmanned systems, communication assets, protection against cyber-attacks, and so on. All these elements are at the basis of the investments part in the “Strategic Vision for Defence” approved in June 2016.
ESD: What are the most important military aerospace programmes in your country, both current and forthcoming?
LtGen Debaene: Next to the Agusta A109, we operate since 2014 the NH90 helicopter in close relationship with our European and international partners in the project.
Our C-130 fleet will be replaced from 2020 on by A400M, a decision our government already took in the beginning of this century. Next to that, we engaged in the EU MRTT project for the equivalent of 1000 flying hours and our “white fleet” is subject of an “outsourcing” project for the equivalent of 2000 flying hours intercontinental business jet, with the possibility for leasing wide body aircraft within the same contract. This part of our fleet will be “completely European” and will be put under the EATC.
Our F-16 fleet is ready to leave service in the 2023 – 2028 period and will be replaced by F-35 combat aircraft. Here we seek to link up with our other European partners (Netherlands, UK, Denmark, Norway, Italy, and so on), but due to or rather thanks to the connectivity on board (such as Link 16), we will be able to cooperate with all other European and international partners as we do for the moment being.
Belgium is contracting MQ 9B MALE drone systems through an FMS case with the US that are to be delivered in the 2023 timeframe. Concerning “image intelligence” we joined the MUSIS-CSO project under French lead and in the area of satellite communication, we partner up, amongst others, with Luxemburg in their GovSatCom programme.
ESD: What share of your procurement funds is invested in military aerospace R&D and what are you concentrating on?
LtGen Debaene: It is difficult to give a precise indication of this percentage, but Belgium is supporting several EDIDP programmes with elements of aerospace R&D in it: the first one is called HAPS, “high altitude pseudo satellite”, that heads for a long endurance airborne system (based upon solar energy), able to carry communication systems or image sensors on board. We also support an EDIDP project that aims at generating a “European protected waveform” in satellite communications. Next to that, our industry will get the opportunity to be involved in high tech industrial work packages and R&D topics together with the partner industry in the F-35 programme.
ESD: Which of these are carried out in international partnerships, and who are your partners?
LtGen Debaene: For the F-35 programme, it will be US as well as EU industrial partners and MoDs. For the EDIDP programmes, industry still is in negotiation phase with their international partners, but we have already identified potential EU nations that show interest in joining up.
ESD: What are your nation’s current activities and considerations in the framework of PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) and what are your plans?
LtGen Debaene: Belgium is lead nation in the “MAS – MCM” project, that looks at the follow-up for the existing maritime autonomous systems for mine countermeasures. Next to that, Belgium joined as “partner” in 10 projects and as “observer”
in another 4 programmes.
The questions were asked by PB.