In March 2019, the US approved of the sale of 4 medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) MQ-9B ‘SkyGuardian’ drones to Belgium. Belgium also requested 5 targeting systems. The drones should be completed by 2024. The Belgium government also invests 24 million euros in the infrastructure of the drones. Apart from this drone purchase, the Belgian government has also expressed continued interest in the development of a European MALE drone together with Italy, France, Spain, and Germany.
The purchase of the four SkyGuardian drones was set out by the Belgium Ministry of Defense in January 2018. In October 2018, Belgium announced however it would purchase two of the SkyGuardian drones.
The four MALE SkyGuardian drones will be acquired by Belgium for around $ 600 million. The drones are expected to be delivered in 2022-2024, while the final deployment capacity is scheduled for 2025. The four drones will replace the 13 B- hunters that the Belgian army has bought in 1998 and deployed since 2004.
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.
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.