Interview with the Belgian Chief of Defence Hon. Admiral Michel Hofman, conducted by Editor in Chief
Q: 4 In late March this year NATO announced that Belgian F-16s are ready for NATO Response Force. Could you discuss about this mission and the role that Belgium is holding in it.
Indeed, at the end March 2021, NATO completed a tactical evaluation of the Belgian air combat capability, flying F-16. This process started in 2019 but due to COVID-19, we experienced some inevitable delays.
NATO’s Readiness Forces are one of the cornerstones in the Alliance’s Deterrence and Security Policy and thus an important pillar of collective defence, one of NATO’s core tasks. By meeting NATO’s evaluation standards, we demonstrated our Air Force’s ability to operate at par with our Allies, supporting the Alliance, contributing to its readiness forces and other engagements such as Baltic Air Policing.
Apart from our Air Force, Belgium also provides maritime capabilities for NATO’s Standing Naval Forces and Land Forces for NRF and engagements such as enhanced Forward Presence. Such contributions are a clear sign of our willingness to take on our responsibility and share the burden regarding collective defence. It is a testimony of our commitment to the Alliance, our solidarity with our Allies and our reliability.
In order to remain relevant, keeping up with technological evolutions, Belgium invested in the replacement of its major combat platforms such as our air combat capability. As from 2023, the F-16 fleet will transition to F-35 over a period of five years. The same process is planned for regarding the replacement of our land combat vehicles, air transport capability, frigates and mine hunting vessels, albeit each within its own time frame. Although these transitions are very challenging, we will of course respect our operational commitments to NATO and our level of readiness.
Q: 5 Belgium and the United States enjoy very special relations in the diplomatic field, in trade cooperation, as well as in defence and security partnership. As decades of military joint training and exercises, joint forces in the overseas operations are all real presentations that accentuate this fact. Would you please comment on U.S-Belgian Armed Forces partnership.
Belgium was liberated by American and Canadian soldiers at the end of the Second World War and with the Battle of the Bulge a special bond was created between our two countries. The post-war period was characterized by a strong Trans-Atlantic cooperation with the creation of NATO in 1949. Since then Belgo-American relations have grown strong in a sphere of mutual respect.
Obviously, the United States remain the important Strategic partner for Belgium and Europe in general with common values and strategic interests as the basis of this partnership. The enhanced cooperation on security and defence is the evident consequence of common values as the strengthening of the multilateral system and democracy around the world.
The United States taking on the leading role in different operations like Resolute Support and Inherent Resolve, allow us to contribute in the achieving of these common challenges to promote regional stability in the areas of our interest. Participating in common operations implies a high degree of cooperation and interoperability, which is reflected in many bilateral contacts, in the sphere of education and training, in operations, and not to mention the many military and political fora where we take part in, and certainly not to forget, the procurement of equipment and weapon systems.
The United States and Belgium have been interconnected for a long time and the intention is to continue cooperation both bilaterally and multilaterally for a long time to come.
Additional: “To our brave Belgian allies and comrades-in-arms, I say ‘Amérique se souvient de vos sacrifices.’ (America remembers your sacrifices). Excerpt from the speech of Chief Master Sgt. Richard Lien, 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron fire chief from Twig, Minn, at the honoring those who gave their lives ceremony in Hombourg, Belgium. November 11, 2013.
Acknowledgments: Image of a Belgian F-16 jet during a quick Reaction Alert exercise. 30. April. 2021©NATO. Excerpt from the speech of Chief Master Sgt. Richard Lien.©U.S Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces in Africa/Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden, 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs. November 13, 2013. The interview is subject to Copyright Law.