Aerial Warfare

Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s Guard and Protect Benelux Airspace for the Last Time

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Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s Guard and Protect Benelux Airspace for the Last Time

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Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s Guard and Protect Benelux Airspace for the Last Time
Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s Guard and Protect Benelux Airspace for the Last Time

Since 1981, Dutch F-16 fighter planes have been permanently ready for the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA). That era has come to an end today. Since this morning, the surveillance of the airspace of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (Benelux) has been in the hands of 2 Dutch F-35s. Two fighter aircraft are permanently available for QRA tasks. Due to the short warning time, they can take off within minutes and intercept an unidentified aircraft. The Netherlands and Belgium will take on these tasks alternately for a number of months. On May 9 it will be the turn of the Belgians again. Until then, Dutch F-35s are now fully responsible for the QRA. For the F-16s it means another step towards the final end. Defense has been phasing out the aircraft for some time. That is why a so-called ‘ scramble ‘ was done one more time at Volkel Air Base yesterday . 2 other F-16s acted as practice enemies.

Little will change for the pilots now that only F-35s will be used from now on. They still have to be ready in the same way. “The conditions remain the same,” says Major Nick, the squadron’s deputy chief of operations. “The F-35 is above all a more modern platform, which makes things easier. The aircraft can fly longer and has better sensors. The F-35 sends the right signal to the enemy.”

F-16s were last in action for their QRA tasks
Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s were last in action for their Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) tasks

In the Netherlands, the Air Operations Control Station in Nieuw Milligen has control over the QRA. When combat controllers notice an aircraft that is not making radio contact, the QRA is alerted to intercept the aircraft. F-35s are stationed at the Leeuwarden and Volkel air bases. Responding adequately to violations of Benelux airspace is one of the core tasks of the air force. In Belgium, the QRA is deployed under the responsibility of the Control and Reporting Center (CRC) in Beauvechain. Air combat control within Europe works closely together when unidentified aircraft fly into the airspace of a neighboring country. This makes it possible to respond to a possible threat in a timely manner. The Belgian fighter planes have Kleine-Brogel and Florennes as their home base.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force purchased a total of 213 F-16A/B aircraft. The Netherlands were one of the four European Participating Air Forces, and one of 5 countries to build the F-16 locally. Force reductions saw the fleet reduced to 68 aircraft, all of them upgraded to MLU standard. Some surplus aircraft have been sold to Jordan and Chile. All operational F-16A/B’s operated by the Netherlands went through the Mid-Life Update (MLU) by 2003. A Multinational Operational Test and Evaluation center for the F-16A/B Mid-Life Update was established at Leeuwarden air base during 1997. As part of continuing defense cuts, the number of KLu F-16s to undergo MLU was reduced from 170 to 138 in mid-1993.

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