Belgian F-16s may have cracks in the fuselage – Army official

After Belgium decided to buy the American F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters, a surprising statement came from Brussels. It said the Belgians might send some of their 44 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to help the Ukrainian Air Force. However, it turns out that Ukraine may not get Belgian F-16s. Also, sources in Belgium commented that the delivery of F-16s to Ukraine could negatively affect the F-35 delivery process.

Central Europe will produce much of the F-16's physical structure
Photo credit: Wikimedia

In a statement to the Belgian newspaper De Standaard, Frederic Goetinck, the Belgian army official in charge of supplies, said it was unthinkable that F-16s would be sent to Ukraine. The statement also makes it clear that even Belgium cannot make full use of its F-16s.

“The planes are not used because they are worn out. These planes are already worn out because they have flown too much. You can’t send planes to Ukraine that you wouldn’t use yourself,” Goetinck said.

Goetinck, who rejected the suggestion that Ukraine might not comply with the strict rules on the maximum flight hours of the plane, said: “For example, if we deliver a dangerous plane with cracks in the fuselage to Ukraine, we will endanger the life of a pilot,” he assessed.

USAF new F-16 'dark grey' camouflage scheme goes mainstream
Photo credit: USAF

It was stated that once Belgium received the delivery of the F-35 aircraft, the F-16s in its hands would be useless and some of them could be sent to Ukraine. Belgium, which is among Europe’s major arms producers, has provided aid such as automatic weapons, armored vehicles, 200 trucks, ammunition, fuel, and medical supplies to support Ukraine, which is at war with Russia.

Cracks in the fuselage

Goetinck’s statement confirms the thesis that a portion of the Belgian F-16s may have holes in the fuselage. Similar statements were made at the beginning of the year, when other Belgian military sources, who wished to remain anonymous, also mentioned the existence of this problem.

Central Europe will produce much of the F-16's physical structure
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

The fuselage is the main body of the plane and is responsible for carrying the weight of the aircraft and its contents. Cracks in the fuselage can weaken the structure and make it more susceptible to failure, especially during high-stress maneuvers such as takeoff, landing, and combat maneuvers.

The severity of the danger depends on the size and location of the cracks. Small cracks may not cause immediate damage, but they can grow over time and eventually lead to catastrophic failure. Large cracks, on the other hand, can cause immediate damage and potentially cause the aircraft to break apart in mid-air. In either case, flying with cracks in the fuselage is a serious safety risk.

The damage caused by fuselage cracks can range from minor to catastrophic. Minor damage may include cosmetic issues such as paint chipping or small dents. More severe damage can include structural deformations, which can affect the aerodynamics of the aircraft and cause it to become unstable. In the worst-case scenario, the fuselage can completely fail, causing the plane to crash and potentially resulting in loss of life.

If Russia pollutes the runways, the US F-16 becomes unusable
Photo by US Air Force/Senior Airman Erica Webster

Regular inspections and maintenance are necessary to detect and repair any cracks before they become a serious safety risk.

The Belgian F-35 also has problems

Initiation of the assembly process for the inaugural pair of F-35As, destined for the Belgian Air Force, has begun at the renowned Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth. The stipulations of the agreement, which encompasses the procurement of 34 F-35As, dictate that the maiden duo of aircraft must be prepared and transitioned before the culmination of the current year. Albeit, the Belgian Air Force finds itself in a position of having to execute dangerous flights with its existing F-16s, a situation that is anticipated to persist until the advent of the first F-35. Yet, it emerges that the anticipated delivery is set to encounter a delay.

Defying expectations, the Belgian Air Force has categorically rejected the initial F-35 aircraft, identified by the serial number AY-01, despite it having successfully crossed the final assembly line. As per the authoritative source of the Belgian Ministry of Defense, it has been discerned that the initial pair of AY-01 aircraft, along with the fully assembled AY-02, fail to align with the intricate technical specifications necessitated by the Block 4 modification.

British F-35 crashed due to one of the F135's air intake blank
Photo credit: UK MoD

According to the stipulations of the purchase contract, the aircraft is to be delivered in the most technologically advanced configuration obtainable at the time. As it stands, the most recent iteration is the Block 4 version, a modification set to endow the F-35A with a plethora of innovative functionalities.

In a recent advertisement from Lockheed Martin, it was asserted that the proposed enhancements will bolster the stealth aircraft’s resilience against contemporary terrestrial and aerial threats, during both offensive and defensive operations. The ongoing integration and certification of the TR-3 processor, a crucial component of these upgrades, is currently in progress. This process, it should be noted, is expected to extend beyond the originally anticipated timeline.

With its incumbent power limitations, the erstwhile generation’s TR-2 processor is ill-equipped to support the demands of the novel Block 4 modification. The timeline for the completion of this innovative version, given the current circumstances, is projected to extend until the second quarter of 2024.

In a statement issued by the Belgian Ministry of Defense, it was emphatically conveyed that the Belgian Air Force will refrain from receiving the F-35A fighters until an upgrade to the Block 4 version, incorporating the TR3 processor, is accomplished. Furthermore, it was stipulated that the fighter must undergo a comprehensive series of tests and obtain complete certification before it is deemed ready for delivery.


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