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Belgium to send two F-16B two-seater fighter jets to Denmark for Ukrainian pilots and ground personnel training.

| Defense News Aerospace 2024

Belgium is set to dispatch two F-16B two-seater aircraft to Denmark between March and September 2024. Their mission is to actively participate in the training of Ukrainian pilots on these highly anticipated aircraft, eagerly awaited by Kyiv. This collaborative training initiative is an integral part of the "F-16 coalition," which consists of thirteen nations led by Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United States. The primary objective is to equip the Ukrainian Air Force with single- and two-seater F-16 fighter-bombers manufactured in the 1980s and 1990s. The ultimate goal is to empower capable personnel to effectively employ these aircraft in countering the Russian invasion.

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Belgium to send two F 16B two seater fighter jets to Denmark for Ukrainian pilots and ground personnel training In addition to offering F-16s to Ukraine, Belgium will continue its efforts to train Ukrainian pilots and take care of the maintenance of the entire F-16 fleet of the coalition, which will involve military personnel and private companies (Picture source: Alain HENRY de FRAHAN)

The comprehensive training program for Ukrainian pilots will be conducted across various locations, including Romania, Denmark, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Notably, six Ukrainian pilots recently completed their fundamental training, including English language courses, in the United Kingdom just before Christmas.

Furthermore, Norway announced its commitment to support this initiative by sending two F-16s to the Danish air base in Skrydstrup, where Ukrainian pilots will receive training in piloting these aircraft.

According to information from the Belgian Defense press service, the Belgian Air Force will also contribute to this training effort. Specifically, two Belgian F-16B aircraft will be deployed to Denmark for two separate eight-week periods between March and September 2024. Additionally, approximately fifty personnel will be involved in this mission, encompassing not only pilots but also Ukrainian technicians and mission planners. These personnel will be drawn from the 2nd and 10th Tactical Wings, which are based respectively in Florennes and Kleine-Brogel.

The F-16 Coalition

The F-16 training coalition is an international coalition formed on 11 July 2023 during the Vilnius Summit with the task of training F-16 pilots, technicians, and support personnel for the Ukrainian Air Force. It originally consisted of 11 nations: Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, as well as Ukraine. The group was nicknamed the "Ocean's 11" by Ukrainian Minister of Defence Oleksii Reznikov, in reference to the American film Ocean's Eleven. On 22 August, it was announced that Greece had also joined the coalition, while on 24 August, the United States announced it joined the training efforts as well. As part of the coalition efforts, a training hub will also be set up in Romania. The Netherlands, Romania, and Lockheed Martin will contribute to the creation and maintenance of this center.

The F-16 training center

After the Vilnius Summit that took place on July 11, 2023, it was announced that the F-16 Training Center in Romania would be located at the 86th Air Base of the Romanian Air Force in Fetești. The training hub is funded by all coalition members, while Romania provides the infrastructure of the base, the Netherlands will provide the F-16s for training, and Lockheed Martin will provide the instructors through its subcontractors, Draken International and Gesellschaft für Flugzieldarstellung (GFD) [de]. As agreed, Romanian pilots will start their training first, then the center will expand to include Ukrainian and other pilots. Following the visit to Romania on 10 October, President Zelenskyy announced that it was agreed to speed up the process and Ukrainian pilots will be enrolled in the first wave of training. According to Dutch Chief of Defence Onno Eichelsheim, the Ukrainian pilots are to begin training at the center in early 2024.

At the end of August 2023, it was reported that the Netherlands would initially bring 12 F-16s to the training center. The number of F-16s could be further increased to 18 aircraft. Before training can start, these aircraft will first be used for refresher training of the hired F-16 instructors. Training will be carried out only in NATO airspace.

During the Informal Meeting of EU Defence Ministers in Toledo, Spain, a Letter of intent regarding the establishment of the F-16 Training Center in Romania was signed by the Romanian Minister of Defence Angel Tîlvăr with the Dutch Minister of Defence Kajsa Ollongren and Lockheed Martin executive Filippo Marchetti. Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu also confirmed that the necessary approvals for initiating the training were secured.

The first aircraft arrived on 7 November, with the European F-16 Training Center being opened after an official ceremony on 13 November.

Belgium to ensure the F-16 Coalition’s maintenance

Belgium is increasing its involvement in the "F-16 coalition" by leveraging its industry expertise to support the maintenance of the fleet destined for Ukraine. This force is initially expected to comprise between 66 to 71 aircraft. Sabena Engineering and Patria Belgium Engineering Center are set to play key roles in this mission.

Belgium has, with the former Sabca Carol site, now renamed Sabena Engineering Gosselies, the largest European maintenance and upkeep center for F-16. Based in Herstal, Patria BEC, for its part, specializes in the maintenance and repair of military jet engines, in particular the Pratt & Whitney jet engines that equip the F-15 and F-16 fighter bombers.

These two companies will also be responsible for refurbishing aircraft from Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway, which will be sent to Ukraine. While some of these aircraft are reportedly already in Gosselies, Sabena Engineering's CEO, Stéphane Burton, has not confirmed this information. He simply stated that "the company will effectively upgrade aircraft from other countries that no longer possess complete expertise in this type of aircraft."

Upon the deployment of these F-16s, there will be a shift towards simpler maintenance in the field, with more complex maintenance operations continuing to be conducted in Gosselies. The financing for this new Belgian initiative will come from the Aid Fund for Ukraine, funded by the taxation of proceeds from Russian assets frozen in Belgium.

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