Belgium: ambitious rearmament plan

A NATO commitment set the members’ national defense budget to 2% of each GDP in view of building a credible defense force. In this regard, Belgium is – at last – launching a major rearmament process. Its 2018 military budget includes 4.7 times more so-called engagement credits than the 2017 budget. This process means cash to be paid on delivery; therefore, it does not appear in normal operating budgets. Altogether, this involves spending €9.2 billion ($US 11.3 billion) on military equipment between 2020 and 2030.

Belgium ambitious rearmament plan 925 001 

Multi-Role Armoured Vehicles VBMR "Griffon"

In 2014, the NATO member states agreed on putting an end to cuts in defense budgets. This commitment was officially inscribed in the Belgian government coalition pact agreed that same year.

In 2015, the Belgian parliament adopted a resolution calling for a “balanced” military force, at which point Defense Minister Steven Vandeput said that “spending more will be inevitable.”

In 2017, the military planning law prepared a major increase in spending, and in December of the same year, Belgium and 25 other EU countries signed the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), a process that creates a path to the embryonic European army proposed by Berlin and Paris. Few people think a real European army could ever exist, though.

On 22 June 2017, the Belgian Council of Ministers had already given its green light to a proposal from Defense Minister Steven Vandeput for launching the purchase of French-made armored vehicles: under a EUR 975 Mn (US$1.2bn) program, Belgium will purchase 60 Jaguar EBRC combat and reconnaissance vehicles and 417 Griffon VBMR multirole armored vehicles.

These two vehicles are currently being developed under the French "Scorpion" program. They will replace the Belgian army's Piranha 3 6x6 and Dingo 2 4x4 armored vehicles currently in use with the Medium Brigade. The Jaguar/Griffon vehicles will be purchased along with communications systems and spare parts. Vehicles are expected to enter service between 2025 and 2030.

According to a statement released on the Minister's website, the objective of this program, dubbed "CAMO", is to establish a partnership with Paris which will be based on identical combat vehicles. Under this partnership, Belgium and France will share common organization, training programs, and logistical support.

A statement that doesn’t seem to come true, according to a recent press conference given by CMI (Cockerill Mechanical Industries) on a very irate tone, the government also stated in 2017 that the Belgian companies CMI, Herstal, and Thales-Belgium could thus obtain contracts in exchange for Belgium’s decision to join the program. Let’s remind that France, on its side, is buying 1,668 Griffon and 248 Jaguar vehicles as part of this program. This is supposed to allow the forces of the two countries to coordinate even more closely on the battlefield.

Officially, the aim of the rearmament process is to reestablish the Belgian army’s credibility. In his New Year speech, Chief of Defense General Marc Compernol proposed to “modernize and invest to ensure key missions but also to save our core business while taking into account of demographic changes.”

Other programs than the CAMO aim at improving special operations forces, as they are more and more deployed abroad. 200 transport vehicles for light troops will replace the home-modified Unimog 1300L trucks. In 2016, Belgium had already ordered 108 British-made Jankel Fox rapid-reaction vehicles.

For the Air Component (air force), the Belgian government is currently in the evaluation of the best offers submitted by Lockheed Martin and the Eurofighter consortium for the replacement of 34 F-16s. The fate of the French proposal for the Rafale remains unknown to date, as it was submitted outside the official tender procedure. Beside the fighter/bomber aircraft for the Air Component, there is also a plan for a joint military satellite program with France.

For decades, the cooperation with the Netherlands to develop frigates and warships, mines, drones and a complete redesign of computer systems for the intelligence services is in progress.

In a larger perspective, the European Union is engaged in a massive rearmament program in anticipation of growing international conflicts as the world has not seen since World War II. This emerged notably in French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement last year that “we have entered into an era in international relations where war is again a possible horizon of politics.” For instance, Sweden has re-introduced mandatory military service. In 2014, Berlin had already announced that it would re-militarize its foreign policy.

The Egmont Institute, an official Belgian thinktank, published a recent report titled “Belgian Defense in 2018: Regeneration Time?” One can read in it: “The present and future force structure is based on a logic of peacetime, whereas the possibility of major conflict on the European continent is perhaps still remote, but surely no longer inconceivable. The deepest challenge for Belgian defense planners relates to the question of how to respond to future contingencies that could be vastly more challenging in operational terms than the experience of recent decades.”