Conversion to the F-16 within 1 sqn started in 1989 and was completed by the end of 1990. The last Belgian F-16 rolled off the production line at the SABCA factory in September of 1991, completing the force structure of 1 sqn. The squadron was the last to convert on the F-16 since the Belgian government decided in 1983 only to order a batch of 44 aircraft as both attrition replacements and follow-on buy for another two squadrons. Financial difficulties prevented from ordering 40 more to equip another two squadrons who where forced to soldier on with their venerable Mirage V fighters.
Soon after equipping this squadron with the F-16, the fall of the Iron Curtain resulted in the withdrawal of the Mirage V aircraft from service. Since this was the only aircraft in the Belgian inventory who had a dedicated reconnaissance version, this role had to be taken over by the F-16 since the Joint Chiefs of Staff didn't want to give up this very important asset.
The last Belgian recce Mirage V flew in the spring of 1993 without having a successor at that time. As an interim solution the Belgian government asked for a number of Oudedelft reconnaissance pods from the Dutch, who flew the F-16 in the recce role since the early eighties. In 1996 however, the Belgian government decided to by a complement of Medium Altitude Reconnaissance Systems (MARS) from the Danish manufacturer 'Per Udsen'. At first they where equipped with the old camera's who where salvaged from the Mirage aircraft. During the late nineties these camera's where replaced by new high resolution examples and also with a line-scan, making real-time imagery possible.
BAF F-16A block 15 #FA-97
from 1 sqn is parked on the concrete at Aalborg AB on June 18th, 1992 armed with a dummy Sidewinder
missile. [Photo by Erik Frikke]
Since the introduction of the MLU version, all F-16s are capable of carrying a reconnaissance pod. However, the Belgian Air Force kept the recce asset centralized within one squadron to make more use of scaling advantages and knowledge pools. Besides this reconnaissance role, all F-16 squadrons within the Belgian Air Force have a swing-role concept forcing them to be competent on all fields.
With the first major restructuring after the end of the Cold War, the squadron lost 6 aircraft of its operational strength. Keeping 12 aircraft operational for NATO duty from 1996 onwards, just as all the other Belgian Air Force F-16 squadrons.
In 2002 the structure of the squadron was changed once more. Because of the fact that all squadrons had a multi-role task at that time, it proved more efficient to have 18 aircraft in every squadron. With the disbandment of the 2nd sqn within the 2nd Wing, 1 squadron received half of its 12 airframes strong fleet, thus having 18 F-16s at their disposal again.
In late 2003 the Belgian government announced a further reduction of the F-16 fleet as part of a cost reducing effort for the armed forces. This will mean that 1 squadron will loose 1/3rd of their F-16s again and will keep 12 planes operational in 2015.
BAF F-16A block 15 #FA-47
from 1 sqn seen at Kleine-Brogel AB on July 18th, 2002 during the first NATO Lions Meet. This aircraft was flown into storage in April of 2004, still wearing its distinctive color scheme. [Photo by Hans Rolink