Saturday, 20 August 2022

A Show Of Shame - Belgian Weapons Deliveries To Ukraine


By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
While many NATO member states have duly answered Ukraine's call to supply it with heavy weaponry, for other countries President Zelensky's plight has offered a stark realisation what decades of defence cuts have come to. For no country is this true more than for Belgium, which in March 2022 had to come to the painful conclusion that it had no heavy weaponry to send from its own stocks. This staggering feat is the result of years of chronic underfunding that had eroded the Belgian Army to the point it could not even pay to operate man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) any longer, leaving an entire army without any form of ground-based air defences. Although Belgium has since announced additional investments into its military, it will take years for these investments to actually have effect.

Belgium's free-riding approach to the security of other NATO member states and of itself is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that in 2014 Belgian Prime Minister Di Rupo declared his country's intention to commit 2% of its GDP to defence spending by 2024, only for Prime Minister De Croo to do the same in 2022, but with the date to achieve this pushed back by eleven years to 2035. [1] Even after rising slightly in recent years, Belgium's budget remains one of the lowest in NATO, just barely cresting 1% of GDP for the first time in years in 2020 and 2021. [2] An early conclusion to the Russo-Ukrainian War, though unfortunately unlikely to occur at this point in time, would likely serve as the perfect excuse for a future Belgian government to keep the country's defence budget well below 2% of its GDP.
 
Since the 2000s the Belgian government has gradually attemped to rid the Land Component of its heavy weaponry, with the last M109 SPGs leaving the service in 2008 and the remaining Leopard 1A5BE MBTs in 2014. Contrary to most other countries, Belgium attempts to quickly sell off retired equipment to defence companies at almost scrap value to avoid having to pay for their storage costs until a proper buyer is found. This has not only included heavy weaponry such as tanks and artillery, but even MILAN ATGMs that were sold on to third parties. As a painful result, Belgium's weapons depots were nigh on empty when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Belgian M109A4BE SPGs after their sale to a private defence company FTS.

What wasn't empty were the depots of the Belgian private defence companies OIP Land Systems and FTS. Thus, in April 2022, the Belgian government attempted to buy back some of the M109A4BEs that it had sold to FTS years prior. [3] The M109A4BE is a modernised version of the M109A2/A3 SPG upgraded between 2005 and 2007. [4] Right after the successful conclusion of the modernisation programme in 2008, Belgium decided to phase out all tracked AFVs and so too decommission the 64 M109A4BEs with immediate effect in what was essentially a giant waste of taxpayer money. [4] Even though the M109s had just been completely refurbished and upgraded, the Belgian government later sold the remainder of the SPGs for the rock-bottom price of €15,000 each (including spare parts) to FTS. [5]
 
When in April 2022 the Belgian government attempted to buy back some of the 28 remaining M109s that hadn't yet been sold to Indonesia in 2016, FTS charged their normal price for each SPG, more than ten times the price the Belgian government had sold them for several years prior. [5] While the Belgian government was busy attempting to overcome the shock of this absolutely profound waste of taxpayer money, the United Kingdom stepped in and bought the SPGs for the same price tag they been offered for to Belgium. [6] Considering the urgency with which the Ukrainian Army needed artillery systems like the M109A4BE, the Belgian government's lack of any urgency to seal a deal because it didn't want to pay ten times the price out of principle (a conundrum entirely of their own making) can only be described as utterly shameful.
 
As the Belgian government attempted a final round of negotations with FTS regarding the price of the M109s in May 2022, they were told that the SPGs had already been sold to another party, which later turned out to be the United Kingdom. [6] Instead of purchasing other much-needed AFVs from OIP Land Systems such as AIFVs and M113 APCs (seen below), the Belgian Minister of Defence Ludivine Dedonder claimed that although deal had fallen through 'the main thing was that Ukraine now had the Belgian M109s'. [7] The whole affair is perhaps symbolic for Belgian politics, which is concerned more with symbolic gestures and endless budgetary discussions than effectual support.

AFVs offered for sale by OIP Land Systems and FTS. From left to right: Gepard SPAAGs, a M109A4BE, a Leopard 1A5BE, a SK-105, an AMX-13, a M113 and an AIFV-B. Of these, the Gepard, M109, Leopard 1, M113 and AIFV-B are highly sought after by Ukraine.

What Belgium did offer from its own excess stocks to Ukraine were several thousand FN FNC assault rifles that were supposed to be destroyed after their replacement by the FN SCAR in Belgian Army service. 5000 of these rifles were shipped to Ukraine along with small numbers of FN F2000 assault rifles. Belgium is also believed to be the source of the few FN SCAR-Ls that have popped up in Ukraine. Other deliveries have consisted of 200 M72 LAW anti-tank weapons and one million euros worth of MILAN anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). [8] Though Belgium claims the total worth of Belgian military aid to Ukraine is some 77 million euros (by cunningly considering the retail price of the equipment rather than its current much lower value), the real extent of military aid is among the lowest in Europe. [9]
 
Though severely lacking in AFVs and heavy armament, the Belgian Land Component does field some 430 Iveco LMV infantry mobility vehicles (IMVs) and 218 Dingo 2 MRAPs. The Iveco LMVs in Belgian service will be replaced by the Oshkosh JTLV from 2023 onwards while the Dingo 2s will similarly be replaced in the coming years. The decision not to supply any of these vehicle types is therefore highly surprising, and would have at least contributed to reinforcing public opinion that Belgium is actively supporting Ukraine's plight. By contrast, the Netherlands and France both opted to draw equipment from active stocks, with France dedicating nearly a quarter of its Ceasar SPGs to Ukraine. [10]
 
The following list attempts to keep track of military equipment delivered or pledged to Ukraine by Belgium during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. The entries below are sorted by armament category (with a flag denoting the country of origin). This list will be updated as further military support is declared.
 
(Click on the equipment type to get a picture of them)
 

Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs)

  •  €1 Million worth of MILANs [May or June 2022]

Anti-Tank Weapons

 

Small Arms


Ammunition

  • ''Small Arms Ammunition'' [To be delivered]
 

Miscellaneous Equipment

 
[2] Belgium's defence budget should increase to 2% by 2035, says De Croo https://www.brusselstimes.com/225723/nato-belgiums-defence-budget-should-increase-to-2-by-2035-says-de-croo
[3] Belgium to send new weapons to Ukraine, including anti-tank guided missiles https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/en/2022/04/22/belgium-to-deliver-new-weapons-to-ukraine-including-anti-tank-g/
[4] Mondelinge vraag inzake de M109 Houwitser https://www.karolien-grosemans.be/mondelinge-vraag-inzake-de-m109-houwitser  
[5] Belgium will not send howitzers to Ukraine due to unreasonable prices https://www.brusselstimes.com/231363/belgium-will-not-send-howitzers-to-ukraine-due-to-unreasonable-prices
[6] Britain redeemed Belgian M109 ACSs from a private company for Ukraine https://mil.in.ua/en/news/britain-redeemed-belgian-m109-acss-from-a-private-company-for-ukraine/
[7] La Défense n'a pu récupérer ses anciens obusiers, qui semblent bien partis vers l'Ukraine https://www.dhnet.be/actu/belgique/2022/06/01/la-defense-na-pu-recuperer-ses-anciens-obusiers-qui-semblent-bien-partis-vers-lukraine
[9] Belgium made a decision to hand over artillery to Ukraine – the media https://mil.in.ua/en/news/belgium-made-a-decision-to-hand-over-artillery-to-ukraine-the-media/
[10] Arms For Ukraine: French Weapons Deliveries To Kyiv https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2022/07/arms-for-ukraine-french-weapon.html

Header image by The Firearm Blog.

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Beyond The Call - Dutch Arms Deliveries To Ukraine
Answering The Call: Heavy Weaponry Supplied To Ukraine