The Belgian Ministry of Defence allegedly pushed Parliament to buy Predator B drones.
The government has been considering which drone to buy for months, but the Ministry of Defence maintains that there is only one viable option: the Predator B, a drone produced by the American defence contractor General Atomics.
The Ministry had requested proposals of the military industry to fill its demand for drones in February 2016. Barely a month later the Ministry’s chief of staff was briefed with a presentation in which, out of several drones, only one option remained, the Certifiable Predator B. (Certifiable means it meets the requirements to fly in EU airspace; the Predator B is also commonly known as the Reaper)
Subsequently, the Predator B was put forward by the Ministry to the Parliamentary committee concerned with the acquisition of drones as the only option, without even mentioning the other options provided by Israeli companies.
According to the Minister of Defence, the reason behind the early dismissal of the Israeli drones is that they could not be certified to fly in European airspace. However, this claim was countered by one of the Israeli companies Elbit, which has sold drones to Switzerland and stated that the certificate would be fully arranged by the end of this year.
The company claims it contacted the Ministry multiple times to make clear that certificate would be arranged, and had even handed over proof. However, cabinet members which settled for the Predator B claim Defence officials informed them that Elbit’s drone was not certifiable
The Israeli company also argued that it’s drones can be used perfectly in sync with NATO/EU demands, and has even been deployed in Poland for the security of a NATO summit. On top of that, the “Certifiable Predator B” drone which the Belgian military has now settled for, did not have the certificate either, the company argued.
A colonel, who was in charge of the previous drone programme for over four years, expressed his concerns over this acquisition procedure too.
Members of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives see similarities with the procedure that lead to the acquisition of the F16’s, noting that once again, the Ministry is pushing politicians in the direction it wants to go. Minister of Defence Steven Vandeput has responded, stating that the acquisition procedure was in accordance with the rules. Vandeput also acknowledged he wants to acquire the US-made Predator B, but reiterated that the Council of Ministers still has to decide on this purchase.
Legal, ethical, and military experts have all criticized the use of armed drones. In Belgium, a parliamentary hearing with such experts was held on the 14th of March to discuss the issues surrounding the use of drones.