Four Belgian F-16s to operate from Jordan against ISIS

Four F-16s plus a spare one flew on September 29 from the Belgian air base of Florennes (which houses the 2nd Tactical Wng) to join Jordan and participate, from October 1, in the air operations of the international coalition led by the United States against the jihadist group Islamic State (IS), still active in Iraq and Syria.

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Four Belgian F 16s to operate from Jordan against ISIS Four Belgian F-16s will again participate to the fight against ISIS from Jordan (Picture source: Belgian MoD)

Four of these fighters will operate from al-Azraq air base (center-east of Jordan) after completing five flight hours over France then the Mediterranean Sea, with air refueling by a French KC-135 that took off from Istres air base, in the south of France. As scheduled in case all four « main » F-16s didn’t face any problem, the spare F-16 flew back to Belgium after the first refueling The four F-16s will be operational from this Thursday, October 1, for missions over Iraq and northeastern Syria, implemented by a detachment of some 125 people, explained the new commander of the Belgian Air component, Major General Thierry Dupont.

"The main mission," explained the commander of the Florennes air base, "is the protection of the coalition ground troops and Iraqi forces - of the Close Air Support, and armed reconnaissance. Belgian aircraft can also be called up to attack Daesh ground targets under the air ban, all this under the control of a "Red Card Holder", a senior officer stationed within the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) based in al-Udeid, in Qatar, who is responsible, with three collaborators, for authorizing - or not - the air strikes according to the mandate and the very strict rules of engagement defined by the Belgian government.

The head of the detachment, already present in Jordan, explained by video conference that all the personnel deployed in recent weeks in a German army camp for this operation called "Desert Falcon" (ODF) had to respect a quarantine linked to the coronavirus.

This is the third time since 2014 that Belgium is taking part with fighter jets in the coalition's Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), which made it possible to eliminate the self-proclaimed ISIS (Daech) caliphate.

The 2 Tactical Wing of Florennes had recently received GBU-39 bombs for the first time. Also called "Small Diameter Bomb" (SDB), this bomb is more efficient in terms of precision. “This new 110kg bomb, including 17kg of explosive, is capable of piercing 2.4m of concrete. It was chosen for its precision and its ability to perform surgical strikes. Due to its relatively limited blast effect, it allows our F-16s to use it in certain situations where the use of GBU-12, GBU-31, GBU-38 and GBU-54 would not be permitted due to the risk of collateral damage. Our F-16s are capable of carrying 8 GBU-39 bombs at a time. Our future F-35As will also be able to use it. Guidance is carried out via GPS coupled to an inertial system. After being dropped, the SDB can hover for 110 km before reaching its target, ”said a unit's weapons technician.

The Kleine-Brogel base housing the 10th Tactical Wing received its GBU-39 bombs at the beginning of 2019, but it was at Florennes that the first Operational Testing and Evaluation (OT&E) flights took place. They were carried out by highly experienced tactical instructors who validate operational procedures and then train other Air Component pilots. The other technicians and gunsmiths will also receive training in their handling.

Belgium has been militarily participating in the fight against Daesh since 2014 - both with combat aircraft and with special forces deployed on the ground in Iraq between January 2015 and the end of November 2018. This has earned the kingdom its admission to the "small group" of the anti-Daesh coalition, the hard core of the countries most involved militarily, which has only thirteen members.