The Belgian military is getting a historic expansion. Under its STAR—Security, Technology, Ambition, Resilience—plan, the government will invest a whopping €14 billion in the following eight years, a recent report by the Ministry of Defense has announced.
Aid came not a moment too soon. Belgian military institutions were in a sorry state after decades of cutbacks and amidst critical staff shortages. Since military staff were forbidden to go on strike or make public grievances, the crisis went largely underreported. The financial infusion therefore would make a military career more attractive, through which the Ministry hopes to substantially increase its troop numbers from 25,000 to 29,000.
In addition to the previously planned purchase of new F-35 fighter aircraft, frigates, and armored vehicles, new military acquisitions are also planned. These would include an extra three drones that can be outfitted with armements, new artillery pieces of the Caesar line, and missile systems for both short and long range. Belgium will also contribute to the research and development of a new European tank, but will not acquire any. Since its Leopards were scrapped, the country is without a tank force. Belgium’s special forces will receive more personnel, as well as amphibious vehicles and their own light aircraft manufactured by Pilatus. More air presence comes in the form of 15 light helicopters and four or five large transport helicopters. On sea, the navy will also be bolstered and acquire the capacity to lay “smart” mines, which look for targets independently.
Another important part of the funds will go to an improved cyber defense, the need for which was highlighted after last December, when the Ministry of Defense fell victim to a cyber attack. Plans to reinforce the military’s grossly understaffed secret service, Algemene Dienst Inlichting en Veiligheid (ADIV), and enlarge its satellite capacity, in cooperation with other European countries such as France and Germany, are also included. When implemented, Belgium’s defense budget would increase from 1.3% to 1.54% of its GDP. This would still constitute less than the 2% standard which NATO members are expected to operate under.
The idea of additional support for the military had been mulled over across party lines for a while. A few years ago, when under Prime Minister Charles Michel (Mouvement Réformateur), the army incurred numerous budget cuts, then Defense Minister Steven Vandeput (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie) was already suspecting security threats—in the Middle East and the Sahel, where Belgian military were present, and also from Russia. In light of recent developments on Eastern Europe’s borders, it is no surprise Belgium’s current government is now going all in towards establishing a robust defense.
Tristan Vanheuckelom writes on film, literature, and comics for various Dutch publications. He is an avid student of history, political theory, and religion, and is a News Writer at The European Conservative.