Strong wind against Belgian Defence Minister

It is now 24 hours that the wind is blowing hard against Belgian Defence Minister Vandeput.

And the very first reason does not come from a member of its staff – the deputy head! – who has been fired last year for suspicions of collusion with Lockheed Martin but from a confidential report of Lockheed Martin released in March 2017 and stating that Belgian F-16s’ lifetime might be extended to another six years (2029 instead of 2023, or 9,500 hours compared to the currently expected 8,000 hours).

The report is revealed in the context of the replacement of the already 40-year-old F-16s, for which two candidates – the F-35 and the Eurofighter – are being considered. And that’s without including the Rafale that didn’t tender but has been proposed by the French government in a G2G deal.

Not surprisingly, the report has been revealed by the Socialist opposition to the Liberal (MR) – Nationalist (N-VA) governmental majority. But it’s a risky business! If the purpose is to cancel the replacement procedure, Belgian aircraft industries have already let it known that they expect very much from the deal, whoever is being awarded, and the job impact will be significant.

So, one might wonder how Minister Vandeput will react:

  • Either he knew about the report and didn’t properly inform both the Government and the Parliament – and that’s a good enough reason for being dismissed,
  • Or he didn’t know and it shows that he doesn’t control his department.

In a rare and quite surprising testimonial last night, he had to say that the information not being brought to his attention was “a strong error of appreciation”.

While all say now that it’s becoming very unlikely that a decision on which aircraft will be choosen to replace the F-16s will be made before the NATO council by early July, at the end of the day, the real question is to whom this « lack of transparency » will profit.

Credit photo: ©Malek Azoug, SPF Chancellerie du Premier Ministre

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