Was the Belgian Defense Minister caught in an embarrassing lie?

While the ministry was preparing to spend billions of euros on a new air force fleet, a leaked report has shown that the F-16s don't need to be replaced. 

Marjan Justaert
Marjan Justaert De Standaard, Belgium
Source: De Standaard
Was the Belgian Defense Minister caught in an embarrassing lie? - NewsMavens
Fighter jet. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

Since the beginning of his term, Minister of Defense Steven Vandeput has expressed a wish to "modernize and invest".

Belgium is launching a rearmament plan in order to reestablish its army's credibility as a strong partner in a future European force.

The pièce de résistance of the minister's plan was a new fleet of fighter jets, meant to be introduced as successors of the current F-16s.

However, a leaked report from Lockheed Martin proved that the current jets are not obsolete, and could still serve the country.

Lockheed Martin's assessment directly contradicts Vandeput's statements. Over the past months, the ministry spoke of "antiquated F-16 fighter jets that must be replaced because carrying on with them is not an option". 

The scandal is compounded by the scale of international financial interests in the project. The defense minister will now have to justify his intention to spend 4 billion euros on an unnecessary acquisition -- an extremely awkward position for such a high-ranking official. 

scandal, politics

Details from the story:

  • The incriminating document was leaked on Monday. The report by Lockheed Martin states that all of the planes could possibly fly for another 6 years, some even 10 years.
  • The government was just about to evaluate offers submitted by manufacturer Lockheed Martin and the Eurofighter consortium in addition to a French proposal.
  • The report was ordered by the Fleet Manager of Belgium but never passed to the Head of the Defense Department nor the Defense Minister.
  • At first, the Defense Department tried to downplay the scandal by saying that "you can get an old-timer to drive for a hundred years if you want!".
  • However, on Tuesday, it turned out that several officers knew about the report. A day later, four top ranking officers, including two generals, announced their resignations.
  • Meanwhile, the minister is struggling to provide an explanation. There are only two possibilities: he either lied to the Parliament or had no idea what was going on in his department.
  • The left-wing opposition, responsible for the leak, wants the government to the acquisition of fighter jets on hold.
  • The Federal Parliament's Defense Select Committee promises that "no stone will be left unturned".
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