F-16 row: "You can get an old-timer to drive for a hundred years if you want!"

Colonel Harold Van Pee, the Belgian air force officer who is in charge of the dossier on the replacement of Belgium's antiquated F-16 fighter jets, has come out fighting after it emerged in the public arena of the parliamentary defence select committee that he had failed to inform the Belgian defence minister Steven Vandeput of the existence of a Lockheed Martin report suggesting that the lifespan of the fighter jets could be expanded by a further six years.

"I plead guilty to receiving an email and I'm looking forward to providing MPs with a full explanation."

Belgium is finalising a decision to purchase a new set of aircraft to replace the F-16s, but on Tuesday the Flemish socialist opposition revealed the existence of a Lockheed Martin report suggesting the craft's lifespan could be considerably extended. Belgian defence minister Vandeput (pictured) did not seem in the know about this report.

Colonel Harold Van Pee has defended his actions in the media: "The report says nothing new and (its importance) is exaggerated. You can get an old-timer to ride for a hundred years if you want! The question is: what can you still effectively do with these F16s. The study concentrates on the bodywork not on the weapons systems."

E-mail traffic confirms manipulation claims

The colonel's failure to pass on the information has led to claims members of the military manipulated the dossier for the renewal of F-16 fighter jets. VRT News has learned that several top ranking officers including three generals were aware that the lifespan of the Belgian fighter jets could be extended and has seen email traffic confirming this.