Another European country is joining the MQ-9 Reaper drone group. In January 2018, the defence experts from Jane’s reported that the Belgium Ministry of Defence had decided on its choice for MALE-UAV, and was seeking to acquire ‘a derivative of the Predator B’. Valued at nearly €180 million, the contract is supposed to deliver two systems to be put into service by the end of 2021. Belgian newspaper De Tijd reported that the choice was between two Israeli companies offering the Heron-TP and the American-made MQ-9B ‘SkyGuardian’, the latter being the Predator B-derivative which will now reportedly be bought. Belgium Members of Parliament voiced strong concerns in the general debate over acquiring armed drones and their potential use, but also around intelligence collection and data sharing that could facilitate targeted killings by partner countries.
The process for acquiring these types of drones was started with the ‘Strategic Vision’ laid out by the Belgian Ministry of Defence in 2016. The plan was to acquire two ‘MALE UAV’ systems at first, before acquiring another four systems on a longer term before 2030, for a total sum of €490 million. The last four systems would ‘preferentially’ be of European-origin.
According to the Strategic Vision, the drones would have the possibility to be armed, though this would require a separate decision of the Belgian government. During a parliamentary discussion, Minister of Defence Vandeput stated that the Reapers would be ‘armable, but not armed’, adding that arming it would require extra parts which were not part of the order either.
The paper already anticipates arming the Reapers, as it included a footnote on the potential costs for arming the drones.
There has not been any serious debate in the Belgian parliament on the wider impacts of the use of drones, in particular for targeted killings and how this related to their national position. When the Minister of Foreign affairs Reynders was asked in 2011 if he would discuss the judicial and ethical issues accompanying ‘targeted killings’ with the United States, Israel, and Russia, he said he was not considering it, and stated that it was better for Belgium to wait for the reactions of those countries to the issues. Pax Christi Flanders published a report on this in 2012 and organized a lecture in the House of Parliamentarians in April 2013. In response to parliamentary questions regarding the acquisition of drones in February 2018, The Minister of Defense reiterated that any potential need for bombing-capacity would first be discussed within the government.