In the current, September issue of AFM, Roy van Sonsbeek and Niels Roman look back at the highpoints in the history of 1 Squadron of the Belgian Air Component, which celebrated 100 years of operations last year.
The official line is that 1 Squadron of the Belgian Air Component turned 100 last year, but in fact this year is the unit’s 105th birthday having been formed in 1913 when, by royal decree, the aviation and balloon squadrons were separated from the army.
March 1989 was a significant time for the ‘Stingers’ as the unit marked its last flights with the Mirage 5 and the beginning of conversion to the General Dynamics F-16A/B Fighting Falcon as Belgium cemented its role as one of the core members of European Participating Air Forces (EPAF). The move to the F-16 saw the unit return to Florennes alongside 2 Squadron, initially becoming a specialist ground-attack unit. This, in turn, meant it was the ‘Stingers’ that were first called upon to deploy to Villafranca, Italy, in 1995 to support Operation Decisive Endeavour in support of NATO ground forces operating in former Yugoslavia.
A change in doctrine, budgetary restrictions and improved capabilities saw the Belgian F-16 squadrons take on a multi-role stance – with the ‘Stingers’ assuming the air-to-air and reconnaissance duties – the latter having been lost with the retirement of the venerable Mirage 5. Once again, 1 Squadron led the way, able to fly such missions by day and at night.
The recce task with the F-16 was initially undertaken with the Orpheus pod, procured from the Royal Netherlands Air Force, which was then replaced by the Danish Per Udsen Modular Recce Pod (MRP). Today, tactical reconnaissance is flown using the Lockheed Martin Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod, with imagery of sufficient resolution to glean the required data. Indeed, 1 Squadron is unique in being the only Belgian Air Component unit with a specific imagery analyst office.