In October 2018, Belgium announced it would acquire two medium-altitude, long endurance (MALE) MQ-9B ‘SkyGuardian’ drones, which will replace the 13 B- hunters that the Belgian army has bought in 1998 and deployed since 2004. Valued at nearly €226 million, the contract is supposed to put the drones, based on the MQ-9 Reaper, into service by 2025.

Apart from this purchase, the Belgian government has also expressed continued interest in the development of a MALE drone together with Italy, France, Spain, and Germany.

The purchase of these two drones differs from the intention set out by the Belgium Ministry of Defense in January 2018, when it had plans to acquire four MQ-9 reaper drones. Valued 40 million less at about €180 million, this contract was supposed to deliver two systems to be put into service by the end of 2021.

The process for acquiring these types of drones was started with the ‘Strategic Vision’ laid out by the Belgian Ministry of Defence in 2016. Belgium aimed to acquire two unmanned aerial vehicles capable of medium altitude and long endurance (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. The Strategic Vision furthermore anticipates arming the Reapers, as it included a footnote on the potential costs for arming the drones. It also states that Belgium’s Ministry of Defence will show to be flexible in the future, if necessary, and that arming the MALE-drones is kept open as an option for supporting ground troops and providing tactical air support.4 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.

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Major Ruaux, commander of a Belgian UAV Squadron, next to the B-Hunter which Belgium currently operates.
Major Ruaux, commander of a Belgian UAV Squadron, next to the B-Hunter which Belgium currently operates.

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