August 28, 2011 (by Bjorn Claes) - The 'hit' percentage of the Belgian F-16s operating in Libya in Operation unified Protector is the highest amongst all other coalition partners. "Thanks to the pilots, ground personnel and the cook who serves the sandwich before the flight."
BAF F-16AM #FA-123 from 349 sqn waits to be refuelled by a KC-135T Stratotanker assigned to the 145th ARS on March 27th, 2011 during Operation Odyssey Dawn.
On the knee of every pilot there's a checklist with the rules of engagement. They determine whether the pilot can drop his bombs or not. During the flight the pilot runs through the list with yes/no questions. Do I see the target? Is there enemy fire? That way he ensures whether the bombs can be released or not. "Sometimes you have to decide not to drop them", says General-Major Claude Van de Voorde, commander of the Belgian Air Force. "In Afghanistan we had to postpone a mission because there was a sheepherder running around. This is the strength of our pilots. We are sometimes a little reluctant, but that seems to be the correct approach."
This calm ultimately pays off. Since March of 2011 the six Belgian F-16s flew 448 missions over Libya and released 365 bombs. Over 97% of those hit their designated target, a hit percentage that is higher than any of the other seven countries with fighter aircraft in the region. Amongst those are large countries as the United States, Great Britain and France.
"Oh well, those statistics", minimises commander Van de Voorde. "With these numbers you can prove anything you want if you will." Nevertheless Prime Minister Yves Leterme and Secretary of Defence Pieter De Crem bragged with these lifted fingers the Belgians received from other countries.
"An ambassador or high ranking military officer who says: The Belgians are doing great, that is nice", Van de Voorde admits. "Of our entire fleet of only 60 F-16s, twelve are currently deployed. That is 20% of our entire assett. A number that no other NATO
Despite these numbers Van de Voorde remains modest. Asked what the secret recepy of those successfull fighters is, Van de Voorde starts with the stringent training and advanced follow-up courses according to NATO standards. The mix of experienced and young pilots. The flying hours they make in accordance with this international norms, the flexibility of the F-16s, the psychological support of the pilots...... Things that re-appear with every Air Force that respects itself.
"If we can operate at this high level for all these years, it probably means that no-one wants to make mistakes", Van de Voorde explains. "Those ISO norms where all the companies and industries show off with, that is what we also do on a daily basis. The pilot, the technical ground personnel, the driver who brings the pilot to his F-16: they all want to get the job done. Also the cook who is on the tarmac at 2 am with a sandwich for the pilot. We are a small country with limited resources, but we are doing a great job on the highest level."