The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF; Dutch: Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu), "Royal Air Force") is the military aviation branch of the Netherlands Armed Forces. It was created in 1953; its ancestor, the Luchtvaartafdeling (aviation department) of the Dutch Army, was founded in 1913. The aerobatic display team of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, active from 1979 until 2019, was the Solo Display Team.
|Royal Netherlands Air Force|
|Founded||27 March 1953[a]|
|Size||6,540 active military personnel (2021) |
|Part of||Dutch Armed Forces|
|March||Parade March of the Royal Netherlands Air Force|
|Commander of the Royal Netherlands Air Force||Lieutenant-general Dennis Luyt|
|Cargo helicopter||CH-47F, AS-532U2|
|Transport||C-130 Hercules, Gulfstream IV|
The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) is the second youngest operational part of the Dutch Armed Forces, which consists of four parts: Navy, Army, Air Force and Marechaussee.
Dutch air power started on 1 July 1913 with the founding of the Army Aviation Group (Luchtvaartafdeling or LVA) at Soesterberg airfield (vliegbasis Soesterberg) with four pilots. When founded, the Army Aviation Group operated one aircraft, the Brik, which was supplemented with three French Farman HF.20 aircraft a few months later.
The Netherlands maintained a neutral position during World War I and the Army Aviation Group did not take part in any action, instead developing the force's capabilities.
Pilot training was opened for ranks below officer, and technical, aerial photography, meteorological and navigation flights were established.
New airfields were established at Arnhem, Gilze-Rijen air base, Venlo and Vlissingen.
After the end of World War I the Dutch government cut the defence budget and the Army Aviation Group was almost dissolved. As political tensions in Europe increased during the late 1930s the government tried to rebuild the armed forces again in 1938 but there were many problems, not least the shortage of pilot instructors, navigators and pilots to fly the new multiple engine aircraft. Lack of standardisation and resulting maintenance issues added to the complexity of the rebuilding task.
As war loomed, in July 1939 the Army Aviation Group was renamed the Army Aviation Brigade (Luchtvaartbrigade).
In August 1939, the Netherlands government mobilised its armed forces, but due to limited budgets the Army Aviation Brigade operated only 176 combat aircraft of the following types:
In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. Within five days the Dutch Army Aviation Brigade was defeated by the Luftwaffe. All of the Brigade's bombers, along with 30 D.XXI and 17 G.I fighters were shot down; two D.XXI and eight G.I were destroyed on the ground. Two G.I were captured by German forces, one of which was later flown to England by a Fokker pilot. The Douglas bombers were used as fighters because no suitable bombs were available; these aircraft were poorly suited for this role and eight were shot down and three destroyed on the ground in the first hours of the conflict.
In spite of their numerical superiority the Luftwaffe lost 350 aircraft in the conquest of the Netherlands, many to anti-aircraft fire and crashes at improvised landing fields in the Netherlands rather than due to action by Dutch fighter aircraft. The cost was high – almost 95% of the Dutch pilots were lost. In recognition of their actions Queen Wilhelmina granted the highest Dutch military decoration, the Militaire Willemsorde (MWO), to the Army Aviation Brigade collectively.
Some aircrews escaped to England and on 1 June 1940, 320 Squadron and 321 Squadron were established there under RAF operational command. Due to a shortage of personnel, 321 Squadron was absorbed by 320 Sqn in January 1941. Although their personnel were predominantly from the Navy Air Service, Army Aviation aircrew also served with 320 Sqn until the end of the war.
In 1941, the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School was re-established, in the United States at Jackson Field (also known as Hawkins Field), Jackson, Mississippi, operating lend-lease aircraft and training all military aircrew for the Netherlands.
The separate Militaire Luchtvaart van het Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger (ML-KNIL; Royal Netherlands East Indies Army Military Air Service) continued in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI), until its occupation by Japan in 1942. Some personnel escaped to Australia and Ceylon. 321 Squadron was re-formed in Ceylon, in March 1942, from Dutch aviators.
In 1942, 18 (NEI) Squadron, a joint Dutch-Australian unit was established, in Canberra, equipped with B-25 Mitchell bombers. It saw action in the New Guinea campaign and over the Dutch East Indies. In 1943, 120 (NEI) Squadron was established. Equipped with Kittyhawk fighters, it flew many missions under Australian command, including the recapturing of Dutch New Guinea.
In June 1943, a Dutch fighter squadron was established in England. 322 (Dutch) Squadron, equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire, saw action as part of the RAF. 322 Sqn aircraft featured the British RAF roundels as well as the Dutch orange triangle. 322 Sqn was successfully deployed against incoming V-1 flying bombs. From mid-1944, during the invasion of Normandy, it executed ground attack missions over France and Belgium.
In July 1944, the Directorate of Netherlands Airpower was established in London.
In 1947, its Chief of Air Force Staff was appointed.
During the Indonesian War of Independence, the air force committed ground attacks and transported material and personnel. In 1948, transportation aircraft were used in support of the first Dutch airborne raid in southern Sumatra and Djokjakarta.
In 1951 several non-combat functions in the Army Aviation were opened to women.
On 27 March 1953 the Royal Netherlands Air Force officially became an independent part of the Dutch armed forces, rather than part of the Army.
The Air Defense Command, (Commando Lucht Verdediging, abbreviated CLV) consisting of a command unit, five radar stations and six fighter squadrons, had been established. Its radar equipment as well as its air defense fighters all came from obsolete RAF stocks.
After the Netherlands joined NATO another new command: Tactical Air Command (Commando Tactische Luchtstrijdkrachten, abbreviated ""CTL) was established.
The Indonesian government claimed Western New Guinea following the end of the Second World War. The Dutch government considered the area Dutch territory. Negotiations over the country were conducted for years, but tensions grew until Indonesia broke diplomatic relations with the Netherlands at the end of the 1950s.
In response, in 1958, the Netherlands deployed military reinforcements to New Guinea, including an Air Force detachment for the air defense of the island Biak as there was evidence that Indonesia was infiltrating the island in advance of a military operation.
The first Air Force contribution was the installation of two MkIV early warning radars on Biak and Woendi islands.
The political situation between the Netherlands and Indonesia continued to deteriorate and in 1960 the Dutch government deployed reinforcements. The operations were known by name as Plan Fidelio. For the Dutch Air Force this meant the establishment of an Air Defense Command for New Guinea (Commando Luchtverdediging Nederlands Nieuw-Guinea – CLV NNG) consisting of:
The Dutch government deployed a squadron consisting of 12 Hawker Hunter Mk.4 AD fighters and two Alouette II SAR helicopters. They were transported to Southeast Asia by the Karel Doorman. One year later the Dutch government deployed another 12 Hawker Hunter Mk6 AD fighters; these aircraft carried more fuel and had a larger combat radius.
In August 1962 Indonesia was ready to attack New Guinea. Despite reinforcements the Dutch defences would be insufficient to withstand the coming attack. Therefore, and because of international political pressure the Dutch government was forced to agree to the peaceful surrender of New Guinea. Dutch forces were withdrawn from the territory.
The establishment of 336 transport squadron is closely connected to New Guinea. Soon after activation this unit was deployed to New Guinea to take over air transport from the Dutch Navy. 336 Sqn deployed and took over three Navy Dakotas and three US supplied aircraft. 336 Sqn operated from Mokmer airstrip and transported more than 5,400 passengers between September 1961 and September 1962.
During the cold war Dutch Air Force flying units were integrated in NATO's Second Allied Tactical Air Force tasked with defending northern West Germany against Warsaw Pact forces. Additionally the Dutch Air Force manned five fully operational self-supporting Missile Groups in West Germany (1 and 2 MslGrp were initially equipped with NIKE batteries, while 3,4 and 5 MslGrp were equipped with Hawk) and replaced by the MIM-104 Patriot Air Defence Missile System.
The Dutch Air Force played a key role in ending the 1977 Dutch train hostage crisis when six F-104 Starfighters flew low over the train to distract the hijackers while Dutch anti-terrorist forces stormed the train.
In 1992 Ypenburg Air Base closed. After the USAF handed over their section of Soesterberg in September 1994, Soesterberg then became a RNLAF transport helicopter base with 298 Squadron (CH-47D Chinook) and 300 Squadron (AS 532U2 Cougar Mk2 and SA 316 Alouette III) stationed at the base.
RNLAF F-16s participated in all operations over Yugoslavia from 1993: Deny Flight, including Deliberate Force in 1995 and ending with Operation Allied Force in 1999 from two bases in Italy. Initially from Villafranca AB in the north of Italy, later moving south to Amendola AB. During the operations over FRY RNLAF F-16s flew reconnaissance (306 Sqn detachments from Volkel AB were in theatre throughout the operations), enforced the Bosnian no-fly zone, dropped bombs on Udbina AB (1994), successfully dropped an unguided bomb on a moving Serb tank during the fall of Srebrenica (1995), and took part in Deliberate Force later in the summer of 1995.
Between 1994 and 1997 Dutch GCI personnel, along with Canadian GCI controllers, provided many hundreds of hours of fighter control and surveillance as integrated members of USAF/ANG Air Control Squadrons. In May 1999 during the Kosovo crisis a RNLAF F-16AM pilot Major Peter Tankink shot down a Yugoslavian MiG-29 with an AMRAAM, but the force was more recognized for its high bombing accuracy. Allied Force was also the operational debut for the upgraded F-16AM. Besides the CAP missions, offensive bombing and photo reconnaissance missions were flown. KDC-10 tankers refuelled allied aircraft over the Adriatic Sea, and C-130 Hercules transports flew daily sorties from Eindhoven AB to logistically support the operation. Dutch F-16s also dropped cluster bombs on Niš. In total, RNLAF aircraft flew 1,194 sorties during operation Allied Force, which is about 7.5% of the total 37,000 sorties flown.
On 2 October 2002 a tri-national detachment of 18 Dutch, Danish and Norwegian F-16 ground attack aircraft and one Dutch KDC-10 tanker deployed to Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan in support of ground forces in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The KDC-10 returned to the Netherlands on 1 April 2003, and the Dutch F-16 detachment on 1 October 2003. The RNLAF returned to Manas AB on 8 September 2004 with five F-16 and one KDC-10 in support of the presidential elections of Afghanistan. This time the aircraft flew under the NATO ISAF flag. On 24 March 2005 the Dutch detachment transferred from Manas AB to Kabul International Airport. A detachment of six AH-64D Apache helicopters were already stationed at Kabul International Airport from April 2004 until March 2005.
In February 2006 four Dutch F-16s were joined by four Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s in a detachment known as the 1st Netherlands-Norwegian European Participating Forces Expeditionary Air Wing (1 NLD/NOR EEAW). This was a follow up of the participation with the Belgian Air Force.
As part of the expanded NATO ISAF mission in southern Afghanistan in August 2006, the Royal Netherlands Air Force had three CH-47D Chinook of 298 Sq stationed at Kandahar Airfield. On 12 November 2006 eight F-16s transferred from Kabul International Airport to Kandahar Airfield, Additionally, a detachment of six (later four) AH-64D Apache helicopters had been stationed of Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan province. The CH-47D Chinooks of 298 sq rotated with Cougars from 300 sq. All helicopters together with a few F-16s returned to the Netherlands in November 2010. The other four F-16s transferred from Kandahar Airfield to Mazar-e-Sharif International Airport in November 2011. The F-16 flight, providing Close Air Support for ground forces and Recce Flights (specialised in counter-ied's), ended their mission officially on 1 July 2014.
On 31 August 2006 a Royal Netherlands Air Force (Michael "Sofac" Donkervoort) pilot was killed when his plane crashed during a mission to support British ground troops in Helmand province.
On 7 December 2007 military use of Twente Air Base ceased. The aerodrome is now known as Enschede Airport Twente. Flying officially ended at Soesterberg Air Base on 12 November 2008. The last jet ever to take off was a Hellenic AF F-4E. The base closed on 31 December 2008. The 298th and 300th squadron moved to Gilze-Rijen Air Base. A part of the base remains in use as a glider field. The former USAFE side will be in use by ground units relocated from Kamp van Zeist and will be called "Camp New Amsterdam". The AF museum (Royal Netherlands Military Aviation Museum) returned to the base and will use most of the existing hangars.
In 2013 the Royal Netherlands Air Force provided Strategic Airlift Support with a KDC-10 in support of French operations in Mali.
The RNLAF was hit hard by the Dutch defence cuts after the 2008 financial crisis. 311 Squadron was disbanded in September 2012, leaving four squadrons of F-16s, and one DC-10 transport aircraft was disposed of.
In October 2014 the Netherlands Air Force joined the US and its Allies fighting ISIL, deploying eight F-16s (of which two are in reserve) to Jordan.
On 31 October 2014 323 Tactess squadron (F-16) disbanded and its aircraft and personnel were merged into 322 Squadron. The following Wednesday (5 November) the squadron reformed in the US as the RNLAF's first Joint Strike Fighter unit.
In 2015 Airbus A330 - MRTT were ordered to replace two Dutch KDC-10 Tanker/Transport aircraft. The Netherlands is the lead nation in NATO initiative to replace and pool existing Tanker/Transport, including Luxembourg, Belgium (1), Germany (4), Norway (1) within EATC, in 2014 it was announced that the Airbus Military A330 MRTT has been selected and two are ordered for the Royal Netherlands Air Force with options to eight aircraft based in adjoining countries. In 2017 the German Air Force, Norwegian Air Force and Belgian Air Force confirmed orders by joining the MMF program to a total of 9 aircraft of which 5 will be based at Eindhoven Airbase and 4 at Cologne Air Base. They will carry Royal Netherlands Air Force roundels and be registered as Dutch aircraft. In November 2019 it was announced that the Dutch KDC-10 tankers were sold to Omega Aerial Refueling Services. The last Dutch KDC-10 was taken out of service in October 2021.
As per 2017 the Air Defence – Quick Reaction Force of two F-16 fighters are integrated for Belgian, Dutch and Luxembourg airspace and rotated between Dutch and Belgian ADF squadrons.
From 2014 The Royal Netherlands Air Force provided eight F-16s in support of the coalition fighting IS. The aircraft were initially deployed in Iraq and later Syria. The mission was handed over to the Belgian Air Force in July 2016 after more than 2100 missions were flown, with weapons used over 1800 times. The Royal Netherlands Air Force contributed extensively to the missions flown by the coalition forces and were in high demand.
Since 2017 RNLAF KDC-10 and C-130 Hercules are deployed to an airfield in the Middle East to assist the United States led coalition in Operation Inherent Resolve.
In January 2018 the Dutch F-16s returned to the Middle East for a year-long deployment.
The RNAF is in the process of restructuring into four major commands:
Another command related to air warfare is the Joint Ground-based Air Defence Command. The RNAF's Patriot and Stinger missile air defence batteries are part of the air force, but come operationally under the JGADC, together with the 61st Missile Air Defence Group of the German Air Force. The JGADC is subordinated to the Royal Netherlands Army.
The force structure reform is done in line with the concept called Fifth Generation Air Force (5e generatie luchtmacht) and in addition to the reshuffling of the RNAF in four major commands the concept plans for:
The rank insignia of commissioned officers.
|NATO code||OF-10||OF-9||OF-8||OF-7||OF-6||OF-5||OF-4||OF-3||OF-2||OF-1||OF(D)||Student officer|
| Royal Netherlands Air Force
|Generaal||Luitenant-generaal||Generaal-majoor||Commodore||Kolonel||Luitenant-kolonel||Majoor||Kapitein||Eerste luitenant||Tweede luitenant||Vaandrig|
| Royal Netherlands Air Force
|Adjudant-Onderofficier||Sergeant-majoor||Sergeant der 1e klasse||Sergeant||Korporaal der 1e klasse||Korporaal||Soldaat der 1ste klasse||Soldaat der 2de klasse||Soldaat der 3de klasse|
|F-35 Lightning II||United States||multirole||F-35A||24||20 on order|
|F-16 Fighting Falcon||United States||multirole||F-16AM||29|
|Airbus A330 MRTT||Europe||refueler / transport||7||2 on order used for the NATO MMR fleet|
|Gulfstream 650||United States||VIP transport||650ER||1 on order|
|Gulfstream IV||United States||VIP transport||1|
|C-130 Hercules||United States||tactical airlift||C-130H||4||2 are C-130H-30 variants|
|Embraer C-390||Brazil||tactical airlift||5 on order|
|Boeing CH-47||United States||transport||CH-47F||20|
|AH-64 Apache||United States||attack||AH-64D/E||27 / 1||being upgraded to AH-64E|
|Eurocopter AS532||France||transport / CSAR||12|
|NHIndustries NH90||European union||transport / ASW||T/NFH||19||flown for the Royal Netherlands Navy|
|F-35 Lightning II||United States||conversion trainer||F-35A||8||conducting training at Luke AFB used for OPTEV|
|MQ-9 Reaper||United States||surveillance||block V||4||4 on order|
To replace its F-16 fleet the RNLAF considered the Dassault Rafale, the Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 52/60, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Saab Gripen, the F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-35. In 2002 the Netherlands signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) to co-develop the F-35 as a 'Tier 2' Partner. Two test aircraft were ordered between 2009 and 2011. Two F-35A have been delivered for the testing program and for training pilots and maintenance crew. This first aircraft is stationed at a base in Florida, US.
On 17 September 2013 the F-35A was officially selected as the replacement for the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 MLU. In February 2014 Parliament approved the purchase of the first batch of eight F-35 aircraft, to be delivered from 2019. In September 2013 the MOD announced that it will buy 35 additional F-35As between 2014 and 2023, bringing the total to 37, the maximum number fitting the original budget for F-16 replacement. The acquisition of initially 37 F-35As was confirmed. The purchase of 15 additional aircraft was announced by the Dutch government in December 2018 for a third squadron to NATO, totalling 52 jets, the first batch of 9 additional aircraft was ordered in 2019.
In 2022 the acquisition of 6 additional F35s was announced to set up a third squadron as requested by NATO, bringing the total number of aircraft to 52.