A new U.S. defense strategy unveiled in January calls for a resized, refocused military. Proceedings asked the leaders of the world’s sea services: In an era of austere defense budgets and rapidly increasing technologies, what are the strategic objectives for your naval force over the next 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?
Divisional Admiral John-Paul Robyns
The strategic objectives of the Belgian Navy have their foundation in a 1996 political accord in which Belgium and the Netherlands agreed to “pursue deeper cooperation and integration for both navies.” Today, our navies are deploying similar types of frigates and mine countermeasures vessels (MCMVs), which have been commonly upgraded and therefore are commonly maintained. The agreement also enables both navies to integrate further their operational, logistical, and educational organization. Indeed, to a certain extent crews or individual personnel can even be exchanged. Soon, with the introduction of NH90 helicopters, such cooperation will be broadened to maritime air capabilities. This bi-national agreement forms the cornerstone of the current Belgian Navy and, with the modernized platforms, its “operationality” is guaranteed until 2020-25.
With counterpiracy operations and last year’s MCMV deployment off the Libyan coast, our navy is contributing faithfully to maritime security operations. For us, addressing maritime-security starts along our own coast, where 300,000 ship movements are registered on an annual basis. The management of that part of the North Sea can only be achieved through comprehensive interagency cooperation, ashore and at sea, formalized in the Belgian Coast Guard platform. The objective for the coming years is to “anchor” the Belgian Navy within that organization aiming at two particular capabilities: First, the “Maritime Information Crossroad” (MIC) has been established, wherein our military, police, and customs are cooperating in the fight against illegal activities in the Belgian maritime area of responsibility. We want to enhance its role in the field to security aspects regarding Belgium’s exclusive economic zone, with neighboring countries, and as an information platform in support of our merchant shipping community. The connection to the European Union’s maritime-surveillance project is therefore an important step. The second goal is the acquisition of two small, modern patrol vessels, which would enhance the MIC’s intervention capabilities when patrolling.
Together with a better representation of naval expertise in the joint defense staff and structure, those objectives will solidify our navy’s position as an expeditionary and a coastal fleet, enabling it to be a significant force in facing the maritime challenges of the coming decades. It will be vital to safeguarding our access to natural resources offshore and ashore, to observing the evolution of the “debates” in Arctic seas, and to an important extent, monitoring the developments of the navies of the Far East.