While this latest incident has had a significant effect on the Belgian F-16 fleet, at least in the short term, it is not as dramatic as that which befell the air force in October 2018, when a ground technician accidentally fired a number of rounds from one of the aircraft’s 20mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon during maintenance at Florennes. Some of these struck another F-16, fully fuelled and ready for a mission. That jet burst into flames and was destroyed, injuring two ground personnel and damaging another two F-16s nearby.
Throughout its service career, the Belgian F-16 fleet has been steadily upgraded through the stepped Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) program, but the jets are now showing their age. The first example was accepted by the air force in January 1979, as the first European-assembled F-16 to be delivered to a European operator. In the meantime, the fleet has been reduced in number by the transfer of successive batches of jets to Jordan. Proposals for a further F-16 life extension, as an alternative to the F-35 acquisition, were rejected.
Although Belgium has chosen the F-35A to replace the Viper, there are now reports that the decisions behind that selection will be subject to parliamentary discussion. As it was, the first of 34 examples of the stealth fighter is not due to be delivered until 2023. However, the first aircraft will remain at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona for training, with the first Belgian-based example not expected to arrive home before 2025.
Until then, Belgium may well face other challenges in keeping its aging F-16 fleet serviceable to meet operational demands both at home and further afield.
With thanks to Benoît Denet and @EHEH_Spotter for their assistance.
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