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Belgium to deliver F-16s to Ukraine in 2025, maintain them, train Ukrainian pilots and mechanics soon.

| 2023

Ukrainian President Zelensky paid a double surprise visit in Brussels this Wednesday, October 11. First to take part in a NATO meeting, and second to discuss with Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder.

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Belgium to deliver F 16s to Ukraine in 2025 maintain them train Ukrainian pilots and mechanics at short term In addition to offering F-16s to Ukraine, Belgium will continue its efforts to train Ukrainian pilots and offer to take care of the maintenance of the entire F-16 fleet of the coalition, which will involve military personnel and private companies (SABENA Engineering, for instance) already maintaining Belgian and U.S. F-16s (Picture source: Alain Henry de Frahan)

After his meeting with President Zelensky, Belgian Prime Minister De Croo said: "We discussed the support that Belgium has offered and will continue to provide to Ukraine. You are fighting in the name of democracy and freedom. Belgium will support Ukraine in three concrete ways: militarily, economically (with sanctions), and with a fund for Ukraine funded by Russian assets. Training missions with our own F-16s will be organized throughout Europe. Regarding the F-16s, we will provide maintenance in addition to pilot and mechanic training. Starting from 2025, Belgium will be able to directly supply you with F-16s. However, this will depend on the government in place at that time. Furthermore, we are close to a system that will completely exclude Russian blood diamonds that are used to finance Vladimir Putin's war". Antwerp is a major center for the global diamond trade.

The Minister of Defense, Ludivine Dedonder, has announced the possible transfer of several Belgian F-16 fighter-bombers to Ukraine, starting from 2025, "depending on the buildup of our new F-35 capability". Indeed, transferring F-16s to Ukraine depends on the delivery of the 34 F-35As purchased from Lockheed Martin, as Belgium needs all its F-16s to carry out its missions involved by its NATO membership, as well as its own national protection. And the final decision will rely on the government that will then be in place. To date, the delivery of the first two F-35As foreseen for 2023 is delayed by around six months, due to software problems to be solved by Lockheed Martin.

It will no longer be necessary to cannibalize old aircraft because the government has decided to purchase spare parts for aircraft that are still operational. The necessary money will come from the support fund for Ukraine which will be constituted from Russian assets frozen in Belgium. “We will see how quickly we can obtain spare parts and Defense will adapt the F-16 withdrawal schedule. We will be able to release more quickly [for Ukraine],” concludes Minister Dedonder.

It is likely that some F-16s that will be sent to Ukraine will have exceeded the 8,000 flight hours usage limit (and will have been decommissioned), but the hope is to also provide combat-ready aircraft.

"The Ukrainians, currently, do not know how to do anything with our F-16s,” comments those around the Minister of Defense." They don’t have the right infrastructure, not a single technician capable of working on these aircraft, not the right logistics chain, not the right ammunition, and not yet pilots capable of controlling them…”

In addition to sending combat aircraft, Belgium will continue its efforts to train pilots and offer to take care of the maintenance of the entire F-16 fleet of the coalition, which will involve military personnel and private companies (SABENA Engineering) already maintaining Belgian, U.S. and other European F-16s. ."The goal is to provide ongoing assistance to Ukraine.", Ludivine Dedonder says. The Belgian F-16s intended for Ukraine will need a complete overhaul first in view of being fully operational.

Will personnel be sent to Ukraine? Defense Minister Dedonder replies: "Belgian personnel will train Ukrainian pilots in Belgium, Denmark, and probably in one of the European Union countries. At the moment, we are not yet talking about Ukraine itself. We are currently assisting Ukraine in modernizing its armed forces. And I believe that what we are offering here is fundamental and much more than just a simple announcement of sending a few F-16s."

Ministre de la Défense Belge Ludivine Dedonder Ministre de la Défense Ukrainien Rustem Umerov Picture source Belgian MoD Belgian Minister of Defense, Ludivine Dedonder, Ukrainian Minister of Defense, Rustem Umerov (Picture source: Belgian MoD)

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