Belgium was one of the four European members of the NATO F-16 partnership. The primary Belgian contractor in the F-16 program was the Societe Anonyme Belge de Constructions Aeronautiques (SABCA), which was responsible for the final assembly of F-16s intended for both Belgian and Danish service. The F100 engines for the F-16s of all four nations in the European consortium were manufactured by the Belgian concern Fabrique National.
The first European F-16 assembly line opened at SABCA in February 1978. The first flight of a Belgian-built F-16 (an F-16B) took place on December 11, 1978, flown by SABCA test pilot Serge Margin with General Dynamics test pilot Neil Anderson riding in the back seat.
The original Belgian order had been for 116 F-16A/B aircraft (96 single- seaters, 20 two-seaters). They were in blocks 1, 5, 10, and 15. Belgium's dual-language air force, the Force Aerienne Belge/Belgische Luchtmacht, was the first European operator to take delivery of locally-built F-16s, the first example (an F-16B two-seater) being accepted by the FAB/BLu on January 29, 1979. The first F-16A/Bs were issued to 349 Squadron based at Beauvechain. On January 16, 1981, 349 Squadron was official assigned to NATO, and was declared fully operational on May 6. This was the first F-16 fighter squadron to be assigned to NATO.
The first 25 F-16As and 10 F-16Bs were built to Block 1/5 standards, although they were later brought up to Block 10 standards. The following 20 As and two Bs were built from the start to Block 10 standards. The remainder were built to the big-tailed Block 15 standard. The original order was completed in late 1985.
Beginning in September 1981, 35 early-production Belgian F-16s were rotated back through the SABCA factory for cockpit modifications and some updating of the avionics, including the APG-66 radar.
Rather than use an externally-carried pod, in 1979 Belgium decided to adopt the Loral Rapport III (Rapid Alert Programmed Power Management and Radar) internal electronic countermeasures suite. The Rapport system had originally been developed for the FAB/BLu following a study of an electronics countermeasures package for the Mirage VB in the light of Israeli experience during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Part of the system is carried in an extended fairing at the base of the tail of the tailfin. It is designed to be compatible with the Rapport II equipment still carried by Belgian Mirage 5R and 5BA fighters. Being internally mounted, the Rapport III system has the advantage of not taking up a hardpoint space and does not add to aircraft drag. However, the disadvantage is that it takes up internal avionics growth space. However, the Rapport III program was cancelled in favor of less-expensive equipment which has yet to be installed.
Delivery of the first 116 aircraft to the FAB/BLu was completed in May of 1985. They replaced F-104G Starfighters in four squadrons. A follow-on batch of 44 Block 15 OCU aircraft was ordered in February of 1983 and delivered between 1987 and 1991. These replaced some Dassault Mirage VBR aircraft.
The Belgian aircraft differ slightly from the F-16s of other NATO nations, having been retrofitted with ESD Carapace ECM. This resulted in the deletion of the small blade antennae underneath the nose of the Block 15s and the addition of bulged fairings on the intake sides. Brake parachutes were fitted to the final batch of Belgian F-16s, and have been retrofitted to the remaining members of the fleet.
The following Belgian air force units operate the F-16:
Following the withdrawal of Belgium's Mirage 5BR reconnaissance aircraft from service, a couple of F-16As of No 2 Wing at Florennes have been modified to carry the Dutch-built Oude Delft Orpheus underfuselage camera pod.
The six Belgian air force squadrons flying the Fighting Falcon are still on front line duties, although the FAB/BLu is often crippled by budgetary problems, with flying hours being severely restricted due to a lack of funds and planes often grounded for extended periods of time. Despite financial problems, the FAB/BLu does its pilot training entirely in Belgium, rather than sending its pilots to the USA as do many of the other smaller NATO members.
Along with the Fighting Falcons serving with other European members of the F-16 pool, Belgian F-16s were scheduled to go through a Mid-Life Update (MLU) during the late 1990s. An agreement on the MLU was finalized on January 26, 1993 between the European and US members of the Multinational Fighter Program. Under this program, Belgian Block 15 F-16A/Bs were to be brought up to approximately F-16C/D Block 50/52 standards. Included in this upgrade is an AN/APG-66(V2A) radar, GPS naviagation aids, a wide-angle HUD, night vision goggle capability, a modular mission computer, and a digital terrain system. Due to the drastic downsizing of the FAB with the end of the Cold War, the number of F-16A/B aircraft scheduled to go through the MLU had to be cut back from 110 to 72. Of these, only 48 are firmly committed, with the remaining 24 being options. In 1997, Belgium agreed to submit these 24 aircraft to MLU as well, in order to meet a six-squadron NATO commitment. The 18 remaining aircraft not subjected to MLU will be used for training, and as reserves for overhaul and attrition.
The first squadron to receive the MLU aircraft was 349 Squadron, followed in February of 2000 by 23 Squadron. Belgium also purchased some Lockheed Martin "Sharpshooter" laser targeting pods for some of these F-16s.
Budgetary conditions have forced the FAB/BLu to undergo a restructuring in which the number of flying combat units would be reduced from three to two wings, with a total of six squadrons with 12 aircraft each. As a result, the FAB/BLu has been forced to place some of its F-16s in permanent storage. Approximately 45 early Block 10 F-16As and a few F-16Bs have been ferried to the former USAFE lugistics airfield at Weelde, where they have been placed in long-term storage. They will be offered to potential buyers on the world arms market. However, there is now a glut of early-model F-16s on the market, and it is more likely that Belgium will scavenge these aircraft for spare parts to keep the remaining force of F-16s flying.
Belgian AF F-16s participated in joint NATO operations over Kosovo during the war. They were also deployed during the 2011 intervention in Libya and in Afghanistan. Since 2008, Belgian F-16s were stationed at Kandahar in support of NATO actions in Afghanistan. They flew their last mission Sept 28, 2014. In 2014, six Belgian AF F-16s went to the Middle East to take part in coalition operations against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq. They are statined in Jordan.
Belgian F-16As are serialed FA-01/136, whereas F-16Bs are serialed FB-01/24. FA-10/55 and FB-01/12 have been upgraded to F-16A/B Block 10 standard, whereas FA-56/136 and FB-13/24 were built as F-16A/B Block 15 (large-tail) aircraft. For administrative purposes, they are also assigned USAF serial numbers.
78-0116/0161 General Dynamics F-16A Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-01/FA-46) 78-0162/0173 General Dynamics F-16B Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FB-01/FB-12) 80-3538/3540 General Dynamics F-16A Block 10C Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-47/49). 80-3541/3546 General Dynamics F-16A Block 10D Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-50/55). 80-3547 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15B Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-56) 80-3548/3551 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15D Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-57/60) 80-3552/3556 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15F Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-61/65) 80-3557/3562 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15H Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-66/71) 80-3563/3570 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15K Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-72/79) 80-3571/3578 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15M Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-80/87) 80-3579/3583 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15P Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-88/92) 80-3584/3587 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15R Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-93/96) 80-3588 General Dynamics F-16B Block 15B Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FB-13) 80-3589/3592 General Dynamics F-16B Block 15D Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FB-14/17) 80-3593/3595 General Dynamics F-16B Block 15F Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FB-18/20) 87-0001 General Dynamics F-16B Block 15AA OCU Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FB-21) 87-0046/0047 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15Y OCU Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-102/103) 87-0048/0054 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15AA OCU Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-104/110) 87-0055/0056 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15AC OCU Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-111/112) 88-0038/0047 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15 Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium. (FA-113/122) 88-0048/0049 General Dynamics F-16B Block 15 Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FB-22/23). 89-0001/0011 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15 Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-123/133) 89-0012 General Dynamics F-16B Block 15 Fighting Falcon built by SABCA for Belgium (FB-24) 90-0025/0027 General Dynamics F-16A Block 15 Fighting Falcon Built by SABCA for Belgium (FA-134/136)