Belgium Struggles To Recover Sold Tanks

Years after having sold its aging tanks, Belgian Defense is now struggling to replenish its stock, especially given the market price.

This week, there are countless countries sending tanks to Ukraine to support kyiv against Russia: United Kingdom, Poland, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Germany and even the United States. But in Belgium, nothing! The government should give the green light on Friday to the delivery of the “most important” military aid provided so far by our country, but it would include anti-aircraft missiles. The reason for this peculiarity: Belgium has sold its stock of tanks and only has any more through private companies. Today, with the war in Ukraine, the authorities would be interested in acquiring new ones, but they face several obstacles, including the huge redemption price.

“We Came to The Conclusion That it Was a Track to be Ruled Out”

Until the 1990s-2000s, Belgium had a number of tanks, but these were no longer in use. The Cold War had ended, Russia seemed to be a reliable partner again, and their usefulness seemed less and less obvious. So they literally took the dust and their condition deteriorated. “A good ten years ago, it was decided to resell these tanks since they were no longer operational”, and this for “for a sum equivalent to 10-15,000 euros since they were no longer working” , explained this Wednesday the Minister of Defense, Ludivine Dedonder, at the microphone of Bel RTL.

Since then, change of context. Moscow is again threatening and the world is much more hostile than 10-20 years ago. The question therefore arises of buying back his tanks. The concern is that the Belgian companies that now own them would only be ready to sell them to Defense with “a margin that is unreasonable”, judges the minister. “We are on a resale price of 500,000 euros each, for equipment which is stored in hangars and for which there has been no repair work”, she laments.

Nevertheless, a survey was conducted to see what might be available. The Chief of Defense, Admiral Michel Hofman, notably confided during a press conference on Tuesday that Belgium had “investigated the track of the Gepard”. “The problem is that these Belgian Gepards are of an even older generation than those that the Germans still had in their stocks, and updating them was impossible, except for major investments. We looked at this in depth and we came to the conclusion, together with the industry, that it was a track to be ruled out, ”he explains.

A Huge Maintenance Cost

Currently, a few Belgian companies own these old army tanks, such as OIP and John Cockerill. The VRT, for example, was in Tournai, where hangars are full of them. But the arms dealer who owns them, Freddy Versluys, prefers to warn: “I wouldn’t advise anyone to just send him to Ukraine.” “If they are sent into combat, they must be reliable. We don’t want them to collapse right away,” he says.

In addition to the buyback price, Freddy Versluys also takes stock of the necessary arrangements to put them back on their feet, and as much to say that it will be necessary to get their hands on the wallet. “New caterpillars? 120,000 euros. Have the engine checked? 185,000 euros. New shock absorbers? 36,000 euros. Fire control system? 500,000 euros”, he lists.

The Belgian Defense Not Careful Enough?

Faced with this lack of Belgian tanks, has the Defense shown negligence? For Ludivine Dedonder, the fact was accomplished when she arrived at the head of her ministry. But what about its predecessors? “They made this decision in the geopolitical situation of the moment. (…) They did not expect another war to break out on the European continent”, she explains.

“In the budgetary context of that time, we made a choice”, also believes Marc Thys, the vice-chief of staff of the Belgian army, who specifies that we must also think about maintaining the stocks other armored vehicles in the context of the war in Ukraine. “The effort is very deep. Remember, this is an ultramarathon. This conflict will last a long time and will require a sustained effort from the entire Western bloc”.

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