Belgian army should receive more equipment and join MGCS programme
The strategic committee appointed earlier this year by Ludivine Dedonder, the Belgian Minister of Defense, to think about the future of the Belgian army has issued its report. This was presented to the Parliament’s Defense Committee on Wednesday 23 June. The twelve experts recommend going beyond the existing Strategic Vision, both in terms of personnel (more personnel) and investment in equipment, in particular by acquiring more F-35A fighter jets.
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Will Belgium participate in the Main Ground Combat System program? (Picture source: French MoD/DGA)
In 2016, the Michel government and its Minister of Defense, Steven Vandeput, had developed a “Strategic Vision for Defense” for 2030, Antoine Clevers recalls in La Libre Belgique. In particular, it provided for an army of 25,000 men and women (including 1,000 civilians) at the end of the decade, against 31,000 (including 1,500 civilians) in 2016. There was also a long list of material investments (included in a law of military programming) valued at the time at some 9.2 billion euros over the period. Among these, the famous Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters (34 in total), two frigates, six minehunter ships, drones, participation in the MRTT tanker program with other European countries, more of 400 armored vehicles, etc.
This Strategic Vision was written in 2016. The new Minister of Defense, Ludivine Dedonder, found it useful to update it to better take into account growing threats, such as the cyber threat. The ten experts and two coordinators she appointed delivered their conclusions. They do not question the work carried out five years earlier but, they say, we must go further.
At the personnel level, a total of 25,000 units is considered insufficient. For the experts, the staff must be reinforced, in particular within the Land Component and in the Cyber domain.
As for the equipment, the expert committee advises going all out. The most spectacular recommendations are:
• increasing the F-35 capacity through the acquisition of additional aircraft (NATO is asking Belgium to increase to 45) and drones capable of accompanying the F-35As, as well as the acquisition of long-range air-to-air missiles and cruise missiles;
• arming of the future four General Atomics MQ-9B SkyGuardian drones;
• participation in NATO ballistic missile defense (BMD);
• participation in the future Franco-German Main Ground Combat System (MGCS);
• acquisition of new medium-size helicopter ;
• acquisition of short take-off and landing (STOL) airplanes for the Special Forces.
The experts remain discreet about the financial resources to be committed. They simply note that increasing defense spending to 1.24% of GDP by 2024 (from 1.07% in 2020), as envisioned by the present De Croo government, is a minimum. And even think in objectives to be financed rather than as a percentage of GDP.
A Belgian participation in the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) programme?
As learned by Army Recognition from Belga news agency, this is one of the recommendations made by the twelve experts of the Strategic Committee. They recommend considering the potential participation of Belgium in the future Franco-German Main Ground Combat System (MGCS).
The reactivation of a “heavy” capability in terms of self-propelled guns on a tracked chassis had already been assessed during the development of the 2016 Strategic Vision. During the ceremony held to mark the creation of the Belgian Motorized Brigade at Marche-en-Famenne in early October 2018, the brigade commander also told Army Recognition about a potential (and somewhat desired) re-equipment of the army with tracked tanks, not only the current 18 Piranha IIIC DF90 combat vehicles armed with a 90mm gun. The desire obviously kept moving forward at the HQ.
As the strategic context is changing, by relying on MGCS, Belgium would respond in particular to the capability objectives set by NATO which result from the need to be able to strengthen the eastern flank. However, joining this (very) ambitious program seems currently out of reach for Belgium.
Belgium got rid of its last Leopard 1A5B MBTs in 2014, keeping only a few Bergpanzer recovery tanks. Joining the MGCS program by 2040 at the earliest would force the Belgian army to re-acquire expertise and equipment adapted to heavy tracked combat vehicles, a kind of vehicles that is not included in the range of vehicles linked to the ongoing CaMo program (Capacité Motorisée, Motorized Capacity) carried on in close cooperation with the French army. France and Germany have both invested € 15m to get MGCS back on track. What could a small country like Belgium invest to take part in the development phase? Well, John Cockerill Defense and FN Herstal could play a certain role, couldn’t they. And the strategic committee seems to wish Belgian participation. So, wait and see ...