How to Fix the Belgian Armed Forces

Belgium as a NATO member

Belgium has a little more than 11 million people and a GDP a little over EUR 400 bn. Public debt is above 100% GDP. Yet the government appears to intend to buy 34 F-35 Lightning II. This would cost USD 6.53 bn, plus likely EUR 1.5...3 bn additional expenses to modernise airbase facilities and other related costs. That's the equivalent of Germany buying 250 (when looking at population size) or 270 F-35 - a very major fiscal effort (much bigger than the annual military budget). To abstain from this effort would reduce the public debt by 2...3 per cent of GDP.

My stance is that membership in a large alliance does NOT mean that you need to pay more to be a "good" ally and actually helper to some of the most aggressive alliance members. The purpose is to enable small powers to achieve deterrence and defence in the first place to maintain peace and sovereignty and secondarily it makes security and defence cheaper. 

A simple model shows this; two countries are border on each other and a third, larger and threatening country. Going alone they would need to maintain armed forces to deter an attack by the bigger neighbour on their own, and deter by being able to inflict punishing damage on both neighbours at once if they attack. An alliance between the two smaller countries enables them to not consider each other as a threat any more, and to spend roughly half as much as without the alliance, for they would stand together against aggression by their larger neighbour.

It's a simple, reasonable and rational principle - and utterly covered up by the nonsense that politicians spew about how smaller allies should spend much on their military (to be a useful auxiliary forces pool for stupid small wars) because they are in an alliance.

This idea of an alliance combined with Belgium's high public debt and a certain fragility of the nation* leads to my conclusion that the armed forces of Belgium should provide a relevant contribution to collective security at low cost.

The Belgian armed forces

The Belgian military (Dutch: Defensie; French: La DĂ©fense) has land, air, marine and medical components, notionally unified in to one armed service. Active personnel is around 30,000 and there's hardly any reserve personnel. The annual military budget is about € 4 bn, that's a little less than 1% GDP.

Belgium has a short coastline with some ports, and its navy has been very small for a long time. Its air force had its best time in the 80's when it was equipped with lots of then still new F-16s. Its army had forward-stationed elements in Germany during the Cold War, and everyone seemed to consider them a weak spot in the string of divisions that guarded NATO in Central Europe during the Cold War. Today it's essentially a cluster of infantry battalions with traditional names, lacking artillery and tanks. The entire land component is incapable of true combined arms warfare.

Belgium is special

There are two things special about Belgium:
  1. It's home to NATO administrative/political headquarters and NATO's strategic level HQ, SHAPE.
  2. It's fairly close to Lithuania and wheeled vehicles could self-deploy to it in two days (technically). The wide rivers Rhine, Oder and Vistula would need to be crossed.**
There are thus two fairly self-evident missions for Belgium's armed forces:
  • To provide security for NATO HQs
  • To provide some quick reaction forces for NATO's deterrence and defence in the Northeast.
I suppose the latter should rather be land forces than some gold-plated strike fighters, for the latter could just as easily be deployed from the UK or Spain. Half an hour or one hour of additional ferry flight time makes much less a difference than one or multiple additional days of road marches.

My recipe

About sea power; no navy, but a coast guard with paramilitary status and at least two mine hunting-capable boats. Those should be faster than the current minehunters (15 kts) to be useful for policing and better for SAR. The two active frigates are nearing the end of their lives anyway.

About air power; no miniature air force and certainly no gold plated planes. Instead, the federal police could operate two transcontinental range business jets for VIP transport and the land forces should feature impressive area air defences.

About land power; this should be split into two parts.

A territorial forces division tasked with training and with providing security for NATO HQs, Bruxelles airport and federal government. This component would have the ordinary malaise of personnel being on courses instead of at their home units, and some officers would be exchanged and replaced by allied exchange personnel. The hardware highlights of this components would be some old AFVs and some high quality area air defence and BMD batteries, both for SHAPE's security.

A field army division would be tasked with a super-quick deployment of a mechanised brigade to the Northeast of Warsaw, provided German, British, French and Polish forces ensure there are enough bridges and military pontoon bridges available across Rhine, Oder and Vistula. The second mission would be to deploy a follow-up mechanised brigade a little later.

This division would have two mechanised brigades (tanks, infantry, artillery, engineers, air defences) in two-year tours, phase-shifted by one year. So one brigade would be training up from platoon training to unit training to battalion battlegroup training while the other would focus on maintaining the peak competence for a year. The personnel would have the individual training completed (in the territorial forces) before joining a brigade for two years, would be deployable*** and would be frozen in for two years. No-one would be sent to a course, no-one would be sent to a liaison tour, no-one would be promoted to a new position. Duds that were identified would have to be replaced with territorial forces 'personnel for the rest of the two-year tour.
One high value brigade would arrive NE of Warsaw in 2...4 days, and the second with lesser capabilities but identical (and complete) equipment would arrive in 1...2 weeks, capable of less demanding missions only. Tank transporters used to deploy the first brigade would be the only divisional troops save for some MP and a tiny divisional administrative HQ.

The TO&E of these mechanised brigades could be designed with integration into some multinational army corps in mind. The bilingualism of Belgium means that cooperation with Dutch, French and Canadian forces could be done with little friction from language barriers, while cooperation with Germans would also be fairly easy given the proximity and thus many opportunities for efficient joint training.
The brigades could be kept affordable by abstaining from gold-plating except in regard to signalling, (mostly passive) electronic warfare, anti-tank firepower and air defence. The quantity of tracked vehicles could be kept to a minimum (MBT and recovery tanks) to limit the quantity of needed tank transporters, but this doesn't mean that many fashionable yet cost-inefficient 8x8 AFVs should be purchased, especially no gold-plated ones. Nor should any fancy buggies or ATVs be used; road march efficiency and long-range cruise speed are important. As a rule of thumb it's the better the less motor vehicles the brigade has, especially if Vistula and Oder brigades are busted and but a few pontoon bridges of limited capacity (~250 vehicles/hour)  are available.

advisable high cost weapon systems:
  • SPGs: Caesar 2 or Archer
  • MBTs: refurbished M1A1 or refurbished M1A2 (due to good availability)
  • air defence: Land Ceptor, AMRAAM-ER or SAMP-T
(I mention this hardware only to communicate the necessary level of quality.)

I have not much knowledge of how the Belgian military copes with the bilingualism, but I strongly suggest that one should avoid making one brigade Flemish and the other one Wallonian. As far as I know the current compromise is to have some battalions in one and some in the other language, but brigades mixed. Multi-ethnic armed forces wisely prefer to keep their forces mixed above battalion and regiment level. This may not be the best for military performance, but it's often a necessity for the country's integrity in the long term. 

I strongly suppose that Belgium could have armed forces that would be more useful to the collective deterrence & defence effort while spending less on them (after investments in three to five years of reform).


P.S:: I will not continue the "How to Fix" series till all NATO countries are covered. I chose Belgium because it represents a somewhat different case than the previous ones. It's no great power, not Mediterranean, and is not Eastern European. The "How to Fix" blog posts may be considered templates; they are largely transferable to similar countries.

*: Belgium is half kind-of-French and half kind-of-Dutch, not a nation-state. This predetermined breaking point requires that the people be extra-satisfied with federal government in order to maintain the peace and country. Belgian federal-level politics have failed to positively impress the people for a long time, and huge military spending mostly serves to reduce what perceptible good policies the government can afford to its people. In short; Belgian's federal government should better spend money on quality of life than on arms, or else the country may break up sooner or later.
**: The Elbe river looks big on  maps, but it's a flimsy obstacle in many places unless it's swollen by much rainfall.
***: Plain English: No women who could get pregnant, period. This does not exclude all real women and does not exclude any fake women, of course.


  1. Great post Sven, glad you are doing this series again.

  2. Given the importance of Antwerp (and I know you are looking at transatlantic convoys via Lisbon, but I'm not sure that's practical in the long run) maintaining a good level of investment in MCM vessels might be wise.

    1. Rotterdam is the important port and it's Dutch, not Belgian.

      Minelaying may happen, but only clandestine minelayers are relevant. It wouldn't take many MCM to clear a lane unless the mines are self-deploying ones.

      Submarines would be too valuable for minelaying in front of Rotterdam. Bombers and transports wouldn't make it and are too valuable as well.

  3. I lived in Antwerp for four years and it seemed big and important at the time. Both the allies and Hitler seemed to think so in 1944 😊

    1. Yeah, OK, Antwerp port is a big one. Yet Rotterdam port moves more than twice the tonnage of goods per year.

      I corrected the part about Belgian ports in the blog post, it wasn't accurate.

    2. If I wanted to cut Antwerp off (bearing in mind it is up a river), I'd have SF or agents seize a ship and scuttle it across the Schelde. Another alternative would be blowing up the lock gates. The Germans actually managed to damage one set with a V2 in 1944-45.

    3. I thought this might interest you:


  4. As you know, the Belgian army experienced about the most massive force reduction of any W. European army. The army always seemed to be held in very low esteem by the population when I lived there and the average age was 47! The problem in any expansion for a more active role would be recruiting in the right age group. I wholeheartedly endorse the logic of your article. I would have added a significant long range target location and indirect fire element based on HIMARS. In peacetime I would shuffle them around in HAS on the former F35 bases. For air sovereignty policing I'd have the Belgian Air Component man a flight of French Rafales leased from and maintained by them. They could be based in an enclave at a lesser used airport such as Charleroi.

    1. Air policing is overrated. Nobody gets hurt if some aircraft flies over Belgium that shouldn't. Belgium is so far away even from the next neutral power that there's really no need for national air policing.

    2. Yes, but I think the ability to police your own airspace, however tenuous the need or the capability, is still a matter of national pride.

    3. Well, that "national pride" thing that hardly any Belgian will take notice of - what do you think how many hundreds of schools and kindergartens should not be renovated and modernised to set free the funds for this "national pride"?

  5. From the internet:
    "This acquisition (of new armored vehicles), in line with the principles set out in the “Strategic Vision,” goes hand in hand with a revolution in defense cooperation for our Land Component. The objective is to establish a partnership based on identical French and Belgian combat vehicles. The objective is for Belgium and France to have a common organization, and that training and logistical support be organized jointly. As announced in the “Strategic Vision,” the operational capabilities and the effectiveness of the Belgian Land Forces will thus be reinforced while, at the same time, building a more European defense (bottom up). "

    1. This is surprising to me given that most of the vehicles they will replace are very recent and can't have been worked hard. If wiki is to be believed these 477 vehicles will replace 545 pandurs dingos and piranha 3s. Belgium retired its only land based SAMs, Mistrals, last year.

  6. Yes, but at the moment they are purchasing 34 F-35 for no more rational reason. That is a whole lot more school renovations than leasing 6-8 early model Rafales and their supporting infrastructure.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. There's a "Rahmennationenkonzept" (I don't know the english term) - a concept of larger allies providing frameworks into which smaller allies integrate their forces up to brigade size, and contribute to above-brigade staffs.

      I wrote about something similar yet more radical in Nov 2015.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Can't agree on the F-35s. Totally agree on more US armor/equipment to Europe.
    Belgium is Second echelon compared to Poland, like Sweden to Finland. Or rater Rear echelon. Poles and Ukrainians have much better amount of armor and arty (the most important thing) - they will hold (no other chance). What they need is air cover and more helos. Their closest neighbor - Germany - is hmm.... No offense. Even not sure if it will join the fight. So many Schroeders. Still may ship some food and medical supplies right?
    So, if anyone wishes to carry the burden be it F-35 or anything else - they have my respect. It's much better then whining that 2% is very much and must include peacekeeping voyages.
    It would have been great if the Belgians would have added some more helos in proper numbers. Blackhawks or better Chinooks. US only. No NH-90s or other rubbish.
    Helos are very important as people seem to be fixated on various gaps - be it Fulda or Suvalki. You can't win being defensive. How many brigades are on the thousand of kms between Murmansk and Petrozavodsk? How one crosses that line? What will lie ahead?

    Lessons from Ukraine should be learned. Ukraine still stands due to vast amounts of armor and arty left form the USSR. They tried very hard to get rid of it and be naked just like most European NATO members still the USSR had left great numbers and actually saved Ukraine by them as numbers do matter.

    Which brings to the point if You don't have the numbers You must train and be familiar with what will available - and that is US gear. So every NATO member has to have at least a training company or better a battalion with Abrams MBTs and Bradleys IFVs. As they will be the only ones available during the war period. A destroyed Abrams still gives You a crew or part of it. A destroyed Leo gives You just more infantry as Germany has no stock and won't be able to replenish the loses. Hurts pride? Then ask US to run two training grounds for Abrams and Bradley crews including civilians that wish to do that.

    Which is the cecond main lesson form Ukraine - volunteers. An all NATO volunteer force is must. Totalwar it be. All gear & a weapons stored by volunteers at home. Within an hour or two the platoon meets at a local airfield and in several hours it will be already in the rear echelon. The number of airfields across Europe and available aircraft is a great advantage that should be used. As the guys are volunteers - no political meddling - a real QRF. This type of formations should be given 120mm mortars, ATGMs, mines. Once they land they can move on commandeered vehicles. Just like videos form Syria show us. They will help to hold the ground, giving the required time for the NATO wheels to start turning.

    1. I doubt that battlefield helicopters are survivable in face of active radar seeker missiles in area air defence units and fighters.

      Germany - I think participation in collective defence is de facto guaranteed.
      The questions are all about the time lag (days? weeks?) and about how well the armed forces are oriented towards collective defence. I criticised the (changing) status quo on both points a lot.

    2. Indeed, the helicopters are not survivable vs SAM and fighters. Be they attack or transport. Just like trucks can't survive machine guns, IFVs - ATGMs. Still You can't move without them. I stated transport helos as another great buy.
      Why? Cause they are expensive and every much needed as Europe should start doing it's part. Considering the great length of the possible front line a considerable amount of transport helos is a must.
      As for their survivability - how may fighters the enemy has? How many SAMs? How many they need to cover thousands of kilometers? Can they even properly cover this vastness?
      Sure helos will need fighter cover, sure be careful about SAMs. NOE all the way.
      Why helos? The road network is poor, forests, marshes, great distances. Railroads are the main logistic network. Which can be and will be taken down at the bridges. Vertical lift in these conditions may be a great advantage as on-time resupply. Plus the enemy has limited helicopter lift capacity and which has to be also noted a limited number of operational runways.

    3. Look at the supply throughput issue again. Helicopters are negligible in their transport capacity compared to the military heavy trucks.

      Helicopters usually make the logistical challenges greater with their kerosene guzzling and may at most help in a few select places. They're valuable for logistics in the mountains and useful for MEDEVAC/CASEVAC as well as some courier flights in rear areas, but no logistics solution in flatlands.

      And then there's the vulnerability of battlefield helicopters.

      "Considering the great length of the possible front line a considerable amount of transport helos is a must."
      That's a claim that would need a very long article to lay out an uninterrupted chain of facts and reasoning to support. This means the claim sounds like opinion, even though it's worded to sound like a fact.

    4. I didn't state attack helos. Ukraine proved that Su-25 attack aircraft (Georgia in 2008 too) and Mi-24 attack helos suffered heavy losses in the face of manpads on the battlefield. I advocated for transport ones.

      The line from Murmansk to Pskov and from Pskov to Grodno are flatlands? Brest-Pinsk-Gomel along the Belorus-Ukrainian border?
      Check Bryansk oblast, Pskov oblast, Smolensk oblast, Tver oblast, Rep of Karelia, Vologda oblast, Yaroslavl oblast, Kostroma oblast, Kaluga oblast, etc. Flatlands? Accessible terrain?
      I consider that ground being very restrictive. As for the great length - the active and reserve capacity today are not that of the USSR. The longer the line the thinner the troops. Helos will be an advantage on that terrain with current opposing force numbers.
      Helos can move towed arty fast. Thats not just an advantage thats a requirement.

    5. Transport helos are turkey shoot targets for fighters. Modern AAMs can easily exceed 100 km and hit a helo at any altitude as long as its main rotor(s) is moving. Transport helos wouldn't don't even have a radar warning receiver.
      AWACS would be forced to command all transport and utility helos to land every time there's a Russian fighter within 150-200 km. Though AWACS may not be on station forward enough to do so, which means the helos would drop like flies.

      Transport helos are furthermore ridiculously expensive if you don't buy Russian Cold War types.

      Most of the terrains you mentioned are irrelevant for NATO (Finland is not in NATO and would seek to stay neutral even when the EU is at war and that's fine). NE Poland, Baltic states do matter.

      NATO only has to deal with mountaineous terrain in Slovakia, Romania and Turkey.

      Finally, helicopters can only move towed (crap) arty fast.

    6. What types of modern AAMs are actually fielded by the Russians and not displayed on shows?
      Yes, helos are expensive.
      Those terrains are not irrelevant. You can't win by defending Suvalki or holding 1/3 of Riga.
      Towed arty indeed is crap compared to SPGs. Yet having one or having none is a big difference.

    7. Why do you keep asking (rhetorical?) questions while already having an opinion?

      The Russians could wipe out hundreds of transport helicopters easily with 1980's vintage missiles technology. Transport helos are the easiest imaginable low altitude targets for SARH MRAAMs.

  9. The F-35s would be based on two bases. A few cruise missiles would keep them on the ground long enough for enemy fixed wing air to take them out in their hangars and shelters. Ditto most of the rest of NATOs air assets. I too am deeply suspicious of attack helo survivability on the modern battlefield - especially against fixed wing air. As for keeping weapons at home, there has been a trend against this for some time, largely due to a number of prominent mass shooting outrages. I think Norway ceased reservists having weapons at home about a decade ago. Belgium (I lived there) went from being a very gun friendly country (with a constitutional right to keep and bear) to a very gun unfriendly one in a succession of new measures from the 1980s onwards. If you had proposed reservists keeping weapons at home prior to 1990, I think it might have been accepted. Not now I'm afraid.

    1. To store many eggs in one basket as with a F-35 centric force seems very unwise to me.


    2. A few cruise missiles will only have a chance at a first sudden strike. So how many cruise missile platforms and cruise missiles are available to the opposing force to carry out such a mission? How many of the cruise missiles proved reliable? Naval ones? Air launched ones? is it true that some platforms are actually as close as within reach of NATO SPGs?
      As for the "fixed wing that will come and take F-35s in their hangars". How many strike platforms are available? How many of them can reach Belgium? What are the types of air to ground munitions that may be used? How do they compare to NATO ones? How accurate and obliterating such a strike might be?

      I based on the numbers and other info consider that neither the cruise missiles nor the fixed wing posses a serious threat. Sure thing the F-35s will get airborne and relocated after the hostilities start as will other planes in Europe.

      As for guns. Norway returned the right/obligation to store a weapon. Same goes to the Baltic states. As for mass shootings, now we have mass knife attacks and car/truck attacks. Anyone banned the cars? Having a weapon for citizens in countries that will have from one hour to three hours at best before the enemy will knock on the door is a must. There is just no other way. The Gerasimov doctrine/little green man just love unarmed pussified nations. As for all European volunteer force - weapon is also a must, maybe not the crew served )). Special laws and regulations may apply like special requirements for storage (safe plus alarm, etc). Such a force will give a chance for anyone from 18 to 50 and will not put additional stress on the reserves. The backbone of Ukrainian forces back in 2014 were guys in their 40s.
      Let's not also forget that in case of hostilities some people will just run to Australia booking all the flights. Some will just run blocking the roads. Some will attempt civil unrest as means to rob. Some will do the same on a payed basis and will attempt blocking troops, burning equipment, under green and world peace slogans. Plus everyone from the far right to the immigrants in most countries are honeycombed by the neo-soviets. Providing security in such conditions by helping the police and helping the army to deploy is another important task to the volunteer force. Without guns at hand they will not succeed as even the active and reserve personnel may be denied access to the barracks by the "protesters" (which will be armed).

    3. Look, maybe you should research the answers to your questions yourself before making up your mind about whether a F-35 buy is a better idea than spending on two (small) mechanised brigades instead.

      My argument was that air power can be deployed quickly over long distances. That's a natural fit for the Americans who also need little land power in the Pacific region. Belgium is fairly close to Eastern Europe, which means they could have mechanised ground forces that are relevant for the first and second week. Those would be very valuable. 35 F-35s that would not operate with external stores until red air defence and fighters are badly mauled would hardly be more relevant in the first weeks.

      About your volunteer light forces; that's kinda what the Poles are doing, and a reasonable, not fragile approach for Poland and the Baltic states.
      I see little to no reason why Belgium should adopt it. Belgians are far from NATO's frontier and their national identity is rather split. So they're a really poor fit for such an approach. Hence again the rapid land forces deployment angle of mine.

      Just in general, though; weekend warriors are a TERRIBLE fit for dealing with uncooperative citizens. Leave that to the cops and at most MP.

    4. Two brigades are better then none. Two brigades are better then 34 F-35s. Yet, Poles have more then that. So air support for them will be nice.
      Someone has to maul the red air defence and fighters?
      As for the two mech brigades why not make one an arty brigade?

    5. A proper artillery brigade is MUCH more expensive to equip, stock munitions for and in its training than a combined arms brigade.

      Besides, such artillery-heavy formations have hardly ever proved a good idea.

      1/3 of the Polish army would be lost in the first hours of conflict because of their stupid basing. The rest would be busy securing Warsaw, though the tanks of another third may be cut off from Warsaw because their military bridging is insufficient.

    6. 2014/2015 proved that arty brigades are a good idea. Ukraine increased the number of arty brigades since 2014 same applies to Russia. Russians even fielded older types from reserves.
      In 2014 Ukraine had 2 arty brigades and 1 MLRS brigade. Now it's 5 more for a total of 7 arty brigades, 1 MLRS brigade and 2 separate MLRS detachments.
      Each arty brigade is 4 arty battalions, 1 AT arty/ATGM battalion, 1 inf battalion.
      Poland is 40 mln people. Their will be enough infantry. Week edn warriors mayve. Same applied to Ukraine. All those in the trenches will need fires support. Lot's of it.
      Ukraine still exists not due to good will or diplomatic "victories" - it exists only cause inflicted heavy losses and showed that further advance will increase them. Most of the casualties above 80% - were caused by artillery.

    7. I don't see the logic of claiming that arty Bdes were a success in Ukraine given that no party has "won" the conflict yet.

      Besides, the warfare there is not really what we'd expect in collective defence. They've been fighting more like Spain 1937. There was at least one highly successful armoured raid early on to relieve a besieged force, and that was driven by concentrated mobile force (a tank battalion at the core, along with above-average infantry).

      Personally I'm not going that far to claim that division of labour should be like Poland provides infantry, Belgium supports them with artillery (for which they sure wouldn't buy enough munitions anyway).

      I prefer combined arms brigades that train as battalion battlegroups in peacetime and have friction minimised through training.

  10. Anonymous, I'm not sure anyone except the Russians have access to information on how many CMs they are stockpiling, but they are relatively cheap and launch platforms for them (even if they don't sneakily launch them from freight containers) are relatively abundant. If they attacked from a standing start as the Israelis did in 1967 it is very likely they would take out the runways on the two airfields on which the Belgians will put their F-35s (I wouldn't be surprised if that was reduced to one base). The remaining AD assets in W. Europe between Poland and Belgium are based on very few airfields and SAM sites. I am not even sure the Germans actually have PATRIOT deployed in peacetime. Even if the bases were untouched, how many interceptors could be surged in time and how many interceptions would they make? There is no reason to believe Russian CMs would be less reliable or accurate than western ones. If they were 50% less reliable they could use twice as many. Once the air defences, such as they are, were taken down, the Russians have plenty of aircraft that can reach Belgium from Western Russia (Google Tu-22M Backfire).

    As for gun control and reservists, the EU recently voted to essentially outright ban semiauto centrefires from civilian possession, to which Finland and Slovakia objected. Trust me, there is no great will here to allow part time soldiers to keep guns at home and there certainly wasn't when I lived in Belgium. Pussified? Maybe, but it's how it is I'm afraid.


  11. I should add that I'm a long term shooter and gun owner with a great interest in reserve forces. I'm not 'anti gun' even by US standards.

  12. Do you have a roadmap for fixing remaining NATO countries? In what order will you do them? After those are done what countries will you fix? Finland, Sweden?

    1. I will not continue the "How to Fix" series till all NATO countries are covered. I chose Belgium because it represents a somewhat different case than the previous ones. It's no great power, not Mediterranean, and is not Eastern European. The "How to Fix" blog posts may be considered templates; they are largely transferable to similar countries.

    2. You will not continue until all NATO countries are covered means what? Will you continue with other NATO countries that haven't been dealt with or what do you mean?

    3. OK, now I see the grammar problem here. Let's fix this with math:

      I will not continue the ("How to Fix" series till all NATO countries are covered).

  13. Very late to the party; am Belgian. Full disclosure: I'm in favor of Flemish independence.

    I don't see Belgium nor Flanders abandoning neither airforce, nor navy (oh, sorry, I mean 'air component' and 'naval/maritime component').

    However, certainly first and foremost, the question has to be asked what we expect our armed forces to DO.
    We don't have much (imo) actually written down in the public domain in terms of strategic tasks & expectations.

    That said:
    our mechanized brigade deserves looking at; agreed.
    The F35 was 'necessary' because our airforce is basically the only 'component' that is in somewhat good condition; BE is very reluctant to deploy ground forces, so for any crisis, the airforce is the one that gets looked at.
    Navy: the current 2 frigates, were IIRC, the largest surface ships for the Belgian navy in... ever. And they're dwarfed by modern 'frigates' pseudo-destroyers. Worse: sinking ONE frigate, effectively sinks half the Belgian *combat* navy.
    For the minesweepers have mainly machineguns..

    Future BE army imo:
    a few fighters for air policing and to serve as drone commanders.
    Sorry; but one cannot abandon the ability to govern one’s skies.
    I’m however also in favor of Belgium(/Flanders) acquiring some firefighting aircraft.
    Climate change is happening, and outside military, I don’t see us acquiring such equipment, yet it is important for Europe, and will serve for international relations.

    NAVY: get a corvette hull that can act for minesweeping too.
    Minesweeping relies on sonar. Submarine hunting relies on sonar.
    a 57mm gun doesn't take up a whole lot of room nor weight.
    Corvette design: 57mm gun, remote MACHINE GUNS. (no small calibre cannons, like on the LCS).
    Helicopter hangar bay, can be unmanned vehicles. (just has to be suitable for anti-submarine warfare).
    Bow sonar & towed array; anti-submarine weapons.
    Couple of NSM's: light anti-ship missiles.
    Self-defense anti-air only.
    anti-mine equipment. (including remote vehicle).
    In case of actual war, NATO has a shortage of actual escort ships that can protect against submarines.
    Using large, expensive frigates is doubtful, as those frigates will be used elsewhere; in carrier groups for example.
    For peace time: for anti-piracy actions, I don’t think a full frigate is truly necessary. Although I do admit, the bigger size supposedly helps with seaworthiness. I’d have no issue with an oversized ‘corvette’ hull. But the idea of designing and using it as a frigate for a country with a very limited coastline is rather… bonkers, when one then only ends up with 2 frigates. Far better to come up with an anti-mine/submarine ‘big corvette’, with limited capability for air or anti-ship. The idea of leaving the possibility open to mount anti-land cruise missiles on the frigate replacement is wasteful: it might make some sense for future anti-’China’/proxy engagements; but the role of a future Belgian (/Flemish) navy is not to lob long range cruise missiles in land. Perhaps hypersonic missile developments have value; but the Belgian navy does not need extreme range. 300 km is plenty. So the longer range missiles are out; thus we don’t need capacity to put such big missiles on our navy’s ships.
    NB: a corvette can still perform search and rescue if it has a decent helo.

    Land army; current mechanized brigade:
    3x Motorized inf. battallions. (currently piranhy IIIC, should become VBMR Griffon, which is an APC with a machine gun)
    2x Light inf battallion (Dingo 2; --> Griffons I think)
    2x engineer battallion
    2x logistics battalion
    2x communications unit
    1x field artillery battalion
    1 recon battallion
    HQ company.

    1. Naval minehunting and minesweeping is nowadays nearly 100% about using drones. You deploy and control from land, in worst case with an anchored barge as relay. A minehunting ship/boat is unnecessary, pointless tradition. Belgium would mostly sweep lanes in right front of a port.

    2. I saw these minehunters as also serving as submarine hunters.
      For minehunting they'd need drones yes.
      (and ideally, for anti-submarine, too)
      Belgium planned navy is 6x minehunting ships, with for on-board gun:...a machine gun.
      and 2 frigates, which granted won't be as big as the 'not a destroyer' frigates, but are still oversized (well, actually, size isn't my issue with it; I wouldn't mind a big ship in and of itself. But a frigate *function* for Belgium is imo a bit bonkers...)

      Worse, IF you're going for a frigate, nowadays, then I'd *expect* the kitchen-sink to be included. Meaning, a high-power laser (250 kW+), a radar-drone, anti-submarine drone (I fully agree helo's will become ever more vulnerable), perhaps a railgun even...
      But overall, a sustained air attack, is not survivable for any frigate.

      a anti-submarine & minehunting vessel with a helo, and a 57mm cannon, would already be enough imo to also serve during peacetime for anti-piracy, can serve for anti-submarine duties, including escort,..

      In another thread, you've mentioned the massive range discrepancy between light (324mm normally), and heavy torpedoes (Nato: 533 IIRC).
      I wonder whether medium torpedoes, around 400mm, might be an option, for both surface ships, and even anti-sub missiles, big drones etc; and how much improvement that'd be.

    3. Look, the article mentions two minehunting boats. Those aren't even necessary as I described already, but they're the compromise because people will irrationally prefer to have some hulls.

      Minehunters are not ASW-capable, and never were serious ASW assets. An imaging minehunting sonar is very different from a high quality ASW sonar (LFASS). So minehunters won't find even a Kilo SSK at a useful distance. Minehunters don't have the means to engage a submarine at a useful distance, either. A helicopter could better operate from land than from a Belgian boat or ship and ASW rockets are quite demanding (and of doubtful utility). Naval vessels the size of minehunters have at most lightweight torpedoes or ASW rocket launchers, both being inferior to the range of submarine-launched heavy torpedoes.

      There's also the question how mines would be deployed at all. Deploying by air seems impractical, deploying by submarine seems inefficient compared to using torpedoes directly against ships and deploying by cargo ship is impractical in wartime. To deploy mines by cargo ship prior to hot conflict or crisis would risk the secrecy of a strategic surprise, and seems poorly advised as well. In fact, I'd invite it to gain the chance to blow up secrecy and get the strategic surprise attack cancelled!

      Last but not leat, I reasoned for two main missions for the armed forces in the article. MCM can be left to allies to avoid the balanced mini military syndrome.

    4. Looking at our frigate procurement program, I'm starting to come around on cancelling our Navy outright, and I'm Flemish!!

      I've started reading up a bit regarding the Belgian replacement frigates. Wtf.


      6.000 tonnes??
      And they call this the 'M' frigate.. what's the big Dutch one going to be..
      It's not *quite* doubling in displacement of the previous ones.. (size doesn't determine lifetime cost though; equipment and crew does. fortunately, we'll surely go a reasonable and cost efficient rout... HAHAHAHA)

      "The new frigates are set to fulfill a general purpose role with ASW as its specialty. However, given the limited number of frigates in the Royal Netherlands Navy (six) and Belgian (two) fleets, the Future Surface Combatant are required to excel in all area (air defense, anti surface warfare…)."

      Everything, kitchen sink included.

      The Belgian one, supposedly would have 8 x Mk41, vs 16 for the Dutch, for anti-air.
      More importantly though: the Dutch always have a tendency to look at the US for military material.
      There's rumors of going for the LRASM, which is a giant imo for a frigate.
      That's a 2-ton, 4 million missile.
      If it's operating in a (likely carrier) group, the number of such missiles fitted on a frigate is not that great overall, relative to other ships.
      If operating alone, who's going to provide the targeting info at such long range?
      Let's say we do join a war against the Chinese with our mighty new assets. Surprise, the Chinese have loads of 'semi-military' ships. Are we throwing precious missiles like these at such problems?
      If we go NSM instead, way smaller: great. But those fit on a corvette too.. Frigate can carry more... but I'd rather have more than 2 ships then.

      For the lightweight torpedo, they're doing a replacement project.. but there's a pretty EU standard one (MU90 IIRC).
      Torpedo hardkill system to be developped... uhm.. don't our German neighbours have one? Would you mind terribly asking your new bundes chancellor for a decent deal, bitte Sehr? I recon he'd be pretty eager to sell some to a EU-neighbour...

      On a frigate of 6.000 tonnes, 8 or 16 VLS cells is a ridiculous payload (imo).
      It is an ASW platform. Right. With 1 ASW helicopter. And beyond that, the standard Light Torpedos. I suppose at least it gets a bow sonar for coastal areas... Thales has a pretty damn good towed array too.
      We're apparantly still going for the 76mm, when most go for 57mm; eh 'fine'; although 76mm calibre is not 'room efficient': the round volume was designed when powder was far less powerful than now. And then in the concepts, apparently we're getting 2 40 mm's.. but not the same as those used by land forces of course. But we're not attaching last ditch AA missiles on those mounts.
      For AA, reason to have those Mk41's, Quadpacked ESSM's.
      You can fit those on a corvette...

      Radar sensor system looks like it'll be state of the art, with full redundancy though.
      It'll also *cost* state of the art then.
      Again: wouldn't the second set, be better on a second vessel... modern missiles can receive their targeting data from an allied ship anyhow.

      We've already approved 500 mill in funding per frigate.
      We could have 2 SAM batteries with Aster-30's instead of those 2 frigates. I recon those SAM batteries would be cheaper over lifetime too.

      With 6.000 tons displacement, we're into Fremm frigate size. Might as well buy the USA version and benefit from economy of scale at some point; just stick a bow sonar on there.
      If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and be a bit depressed...

  14. Ukraine shows the importance of artillery.
    Armenia/Azerbidjan the importance of (counter)drone warfare.
    In addition, our army has difficulty getting enough people.

    I would completely change the make-up of the brigade & battallion:

    1) we stick to pure wheeled vehicles. As much as possible the same chassis for everything.
    2) I consider the Griffon undergunned, and probably underarmored. (taxi moreso than frontline combat vehicle. Once troups get into combat, do you want to send in a griffon to get them back out?)
    So: I'm in favor of IFV's; Patria AMV28A or Iveco SuperAV with the 40mm TAC cannon.
    3) active protection systems have come a long way.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AMAP-ADS for everyone.
    Culturally, Belgium is very, very risk-adverse with their ground forces' deployments.
    4) our 'most likely opponents' have a tendency to use 'little grey men'. the backline may end up being also vulnerable.
    Thus, artillery and the like, should NEVER be towed artillery: artillery men in the open are vulnerable to guns.
    With active protection systems, even artillery vehicles can become rather difficult to take out.
    5) Our 'communications' battallions, should also become 'EW battallions'. but I don't know what type of equipment they could get. I do think we should invest in having more 'fake' vehicles at least.

    Reworked battallion:
    Mechanized 'infantry' Battalion:
    2x mechanized infantry company;
    1x self-propelled & enclosed Artillery, & AA battallion.
    This fits the mindset of distributed lethality.

    The earliest anti-air was AAA. (besides machine guns).
    For artillery: 155mm artillery is heavy, the rounds are relatively big limiting number of rounds carried. I'm in favor of having all 105mm artillery. (we're buying 8 Caesar's, but 8 is such a low quantity...)
    I see this as 6-8 105mm artillery vehicles.
    Incidentally, that is the calibre used by most Nato LIGHT units. i.e. probably the first ones to arrive.
    105mmm artillery can ALL be fired 'horizontally'. And the boom might not penetrate frontal tank armor if they run into any, but it sure won't feel good for the tank either, or it's sensors and the like.
    Anything less than frontal tank armor on the receiving end of 105mm artillery, well...

    1x Artillery/AA battallion.
    again, 105mm artillery.
    The make-up of the AA: not sure. Maybe some 57mm's, maybe we can have lasers.. for sure we should have anti-drone capability; including 'light & small' and heavier drones.
    Then, SAM's.

    1x 'mobile tank gun battallion'. Think Centauro II, with active protection system.
    The gun could be anything; 120mm-140mm. Would be nice if Europe decided what the next tank gun will be.
    Could also be 2 battallions, with a mix of 'full size tank gun', and a lighter, medium gun, like the 57mm, that doubles for anti-air, yet is too big for an IFV.

    Optional: rocket artillery battallion.

    We'd still keep engineering, logistics etc battallions.

    There'd be less infantry; but infantry is very, very vulnerable on modern battlefield. (at least vs actual peer nations). Once dismounted, movement speed is also very limited.
    Now, those IFV's are not your favorite, and a bit 'gold plated'.
    But actually: think of infantry wages etc costs.
    We reduce this a bit by having less actual infantry.
    And dismounted Belgian infantry imo would have limited impact anyway: the amount of anti-armor rocket ammunition they'd carry with them would be very limited e.g.

    a big problem is getting money spend on (useful...) equipment, having equipment that can actually be trained with (training with cannons is a lot cheaper than with rockets; including anti-tank rockets).
    And enticing & keeping military personnel.
    Then, imo, there are worse options to spend €€€'s on than a 'gold plated' IFV.

    1. That's the balanced mini military syndrome. A little of everything. That's much too hard on procurement and training.

      I understand the concept of using only one AFV platform and a wheeled one for that is understandable as well, but the entire military should follow KISS "keep it simple, stupid" if it's small.

    2. Well, I don't see Belgian ground forces getting enough people to crew 2 ground brigades (a division).

      I can see your point regarding 'little bit of everything'.

      But imo, that's pretty much where I'd see a decent (Belgian) brigade ending up.
      In a 'real' conflict, can you guarantee comms will be available to contact Artillery 20-50 km away?
      That's before entering into the massive difficulty of co-ordinating between many different countries with different equipment.

      I also oppose the notion of having smaller countries military effectively become a component of a larger country.
      Then you are a client state.
      Recent conflicts have shown the necessity of artillery, and of (including anti-drone) anti-air.
      We are severely lacking on both.

      Drones and the likes require a closer presence of anti-air. (I think Western armies still underestimate the threat of 'medium' drones; Turkish drones have already shown capability to autonomously engage; so jamming drones may hit a wall in the near future as a solution too)

      Politically, the last tanks we had, were the Leopard 1's. Those were 'tanks', but weren't heavily armored either; that worked out for us as they were lighter than modern ones.
      I recon a modern 'wheeled main gun', with good soft & hard kill, might be *more* survivable relatively, than the Leopard 1 was at it's time.

      If any Flemish politician now would move to buy tanks, the Frenchies (Brussels+Walloons) would immediately call him a Nazi and demand his resignation.
      If any 'Frenchy' politician would move to procure any, they'd want French tanks; such as Leclerc's. Which is pretty difficult on the Flemish side.
      Conversely, abandoning Navy is complete political suicide on Flemish side... and would throw a massive wrench in our relations and collaboration with the Dutch.

      perhaps a future collaborated FR + DE tank could be more accepted politically; but it remains potential political suicide imo: in public eye, a tank is seen as offensive; not defensive; the strategic decision remains: no tracked vehicles. We don't have the logistics chain to look after tracked vehicles; the heavy vehicles would get a ton of remarks when moving just for exercises in terms of road damage; we don't have a lot of bridges that would easily support modern heavy tank weights...

      KISS principle: doesn't work anymore for modern warfare. Single platform approach is as simple as it can get.


      Politically acceptable shift attempt:
      Navy from 2 frigates, 6 minehunters, to 2-3 corvettes (imo: anti-submarine...), 3-4 minehunters. Either 2-4, or 3-3.
      Tbh, I think even that is unlikely, but at least, more realistic.

      Damen (Dutch company) Sigma corvette design;
      we fit on what we can in terms of anti-submarine equipment, probably swap the 76mm for a 57mm.
      Something good enough for anti-piracy, with good anti-submarine capabilities.
      Good anti-submarine capabilities: I'd want a drone capability, that can drop buoys and a light torpedo, a torpedo soft & hardkill system, and I think a medium torpedo would already offer a strong improvement over the standard of 3x lightweight torps.

      What to spend the (limited!) freed budget on:
      Well, decent IFV's, self-propelled wheeled artillery, anti-air are highest on my personnal shopping list... recon drones for the army...

      you're not going to get rid of the airforce.
      And 30-35 frames doesn't leave much room; if anything drones would be on the wishlist.