The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) has handed over the responsibility of guarding the Belgian, Netherlands and Luxembourg (BENELUX) airspace to the Belgian Air Component. As part of the latest deployment, the Belgian F-16 jets will be present at two air bases for the next few months. The bases include Kleine-Brogel in the north of Belgium, and Florennes in the south of the country. The operations undertaken by the Belgian aircraft will be controlled by the Control and Reporting Centre in Beauvechain, Belgium. The two countries will take up this surveillance duty alternatively for several months at a time.
The Benelux Union, also known as simply Benelux, is a politico-economic union and formal international intergovernmental cooperation of three neighboring states in western Europe: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The name is a portmanteau formed from joining the first few letters of each country’s name and was first used to name the customs agreement that initiated the union (signed in 1944). It is now used more generally to refer to the geographic, economic, and cultural grouping of the three countries. The Benelux General Secretariat is located in Brussels. The Benelux presidency is held in turn by the three countries for a period of one year.
Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg have signed an agreement to conduct joint air policing of their territories. Under the agreement, the Belgian and Dutch Air Forces will defend the Benelux airspace on a rotational basis, starting in mid-2016, as reported by IHS Jane’s. It is claimed that the contract will be the first of its kind among the European Union (EU) members. The two air forces will keep two F-16 Fighting Falcon jets on quick reaction alert (QRA) to protect the airspace of all three signatories against both military threats and renegade aircraft, which is a civil aircraft that is likely to pose a terrorist threat.
As part of the contract, the Netherlands can order Belgian fighter jets patrolling its airspace to shoot down a renegade aircraft, while Belgium will also have an authority to execute a similar order. Luxembourg, which lacks an air force, has already ruled out the use of lethal force over its territory. The agreement must be ratified by the three countries’ parliaments and approved by their executive branches. Following ratification and necessary approvals, the signatories will work out details like the length of the rotations of the Belgian and Dutch aircraft on QRA, amongst others.
The agreement follows a letter of intent signed by Belgium and the Netherlands on joint air policing in October 2013. The forces need to ensure the permanent availability of a minimum of two fighter jets due to the short warning time. The jets are required to take off within minutes to intercept any unidentified aircraft tracked in the BENELUX airspace. This centre is responsible for sending alerts to the deployed aircraft if an unidentified aircraft enters the BENELUX airspace without prior permission. However, the Dutch fighters were controlled by another centre in Nieuw Milligen, called Air Operations Control Station.