“Armable” drones for the Belgian army

Delicate wording to be found by the Belgian Defense to make Parliament accept the undeniable need to equip the army with drones corresponding to what an increasing number of countries are adopting in the 21st century, namely drones capable of firing missiles.

Armable drones for the Belgian army
 Israel Aerospace Industries "Heron TP" (Eitan) MALE (Picture source: IAI)

Four B-Hunter drones (produced by IAI, Israel Aerospace Industries) have been in service since 2004 in the Belgian army. They will be phased out between 2021 and 2030.

The devices to replace them must meet up-to-date criteria based on the new operational requirements deducted from operations in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, to name but a few. This is a market valued at 490 million euros.

The main novelty, or at least the one that arouses the most excitement among some parliamentarians and various movements systematically unfavorable to military investments, is that they can also fire missiles. "But these will be unarmed, only ‘armable’, drones," Defense Minister Steven Vandeput told Parliament on 8 February. The formula is convoluted, one had to think about it. Politically obliged to show a certain prudence typical of the country where painter René Magritte, champion of surrealism, was born, the minister explained that these drones would, like the B-Hunter, carry on mainly observation missions but that if necessary, they could be used for attack missions, this being said almost like an apology. Surrealism, we say...

Responding to the usual theatrical indignations about the risk of collateral damage, it was said that the pilots of these drones on an attack mission would be forced to respect the same rules of engagement (ROE) than the fighter-bomber pilots. The reputation of the Belgian pilots is remarkable on this point.

Two candidates are already in contention: the American Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) commonly known as the Predator B or MQ-9 Reaper "Sky Guardian" manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), and Israel Aerospace Industries "Heron TP" (Eitan) MALE (medium-altitude, long-endurance).

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