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Preparations for the JSF Arrival; Gilze-Rijen, June 18-23, 2014

Operation Air Support 2014, part 4; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

In 2003 the Dutch government decided to downsize the current fleet of F-16 fighters. As a result of these cutbacks, Twenthe Air Base was finally closed in 2007. In the future, the Air Force will not exceed 37 JSF fighter aircraft and a small fleet of drones which will be based at Volkel Air Base and Leeuwarden Air Base.

In 2003 the Dutch Cabinet decided to close Twenthe Air Base due to financial cutbacks. The F-16 operations would therefore be concentrated on the two Main Operating Bases (MOBs) Leeuwarden and Volkel. Twenthe Air Base would eventually close in 2007. The last operational F-16s left however at the end of 2005 when the no 313 Squadron moved from Twenthe to Volkel. The second squadron at Twenthe was the no 315 Squadron. This unit was disbanded as a result of this first round of cutbacks. After more than 50 years the unit was deactivated; the no 315 Squadron had the sign of the lion on the badge. The no 306 Squadron at Volkel was almost simultaneously disbanded. This unit was the only photo reconnaissance unit of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. All the MLU F-16s are equipped with a system which makes the aircraft suitable for photo reconnaissance. This made the disbandment of a specialized reconnaissance unit necessary. The no 306 Squadron moved to Tucson in Arizona for the training task. On April 8, 2011, the Defense Minister Hans Hillen announced the upcoming defense cuts. A total of nineteen F-16s had to disappear from Leeuwarden and Volkel. There will be a total of 69 F-16s which remain in service. The retirement of these F-16s had disastrous consequences for the no 311 Squadron at Volkel Air Base. As of May 8, 2011, the unit was disbanded as a result of these cutbacks. The Dutch Defense sold over 43 MLU F-16s. A total of 37 aircraft were sold to Chile and there were six planes sold to Jordan.

The Dutch government stepped into the JSF project to development the successor of the F-16 in the Netherlands. Despite the enormous financial and technical setbacks and fierce resistance from the opposition, the current coalition party adheres to the decision to purchase the JSF. The Dutch government decided in addition to the purchase of the JSF also to participate in the development of the fighter. In return for the funding of the development the Dutch companies would receive orders for millions

of Euros to build parts of the JSF through various production tasks. The Dutch government has more than 800 million dollars available for the development of the JSF. The JSF is in the test phase and goes through a difficult stage in the development of the aircraft. There are many design faults in the aircraft causing incidents which regularly occur during the testing phase. The Dutch government decided in 2010 to the purchase of two test aircraft to participate in the testing phase of the JSF. The first F-35 Lightning II test aircraft was transferred from the Lockheed Martin factory to the Dutch government in Fort Worth, Texas on April 2, 2012. The test aircraft has undergone several tests of the fuel system. After that, the plane went to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida where the Dutch Air Force has used the aircraft for the training of the pilots and maintenance personnel. The first test aircraft was not bought by the previous government and deposited. The second aircraft was ordered in April 2011 and will cost over 90 million euros.

Although the final decision to purchase the JSF has not been taken, the choice for the JSF seems to stand already for a very long time. In 2002, when the contract for the development of the JSF was signed, it was assumed at 138 aircraft. Due to the rising costs of the development of the aircraft and by the closure of Twenthe airbase and the contraction of the current F-16 fleet, this number was quickly adjusted to 85 aircraft. The government has finally decided to buy only 37 aircraft. In the defense budget in 2014 was chosen for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II as the successor of the F-16. According to the current plans, the 37 aircraft will enter service from 2019. The Dutch production order will ultimately consist of 35 aircraft for the operational units. The remaining two aircraft are already purchased test aircraft. It is questionable whether these two test aircraft will ever come into operational service in the Dutch Air Force. The JSF program was started with the aim of developing an affordable stealth aircraft for the twenty-first century. The goal of the JSF program was to build one plane which had to fulfill the tasks of three different aircraft types. The goal was that the different variants would be equally as much as possible and costs would be reduced. The different types of JSF, are; the F-35A with conventional takeoff and landing capabilities, the F-35B STOVL version of the JSF and the F-35C which can be launched with a slingshot from an aircraft carrier. The Netherlands will go for the conventional F-35A version of the JSF.

The Air Force currently has a fleet of 68 F-16s spread over Leeuwarden Air Base and Volkel Air Base. There are also a number of aircraft in Arizona, USA. These F-16s are of the Dutch training wing for the training of pilots. By reducing the number of operational F-16s, the number of F-16 squadrons will in the near future be reduced from 4 to 3 squadrons (one at Leeuwarden Air Base and 2 at Volkel Air Base). As a result of this cut, Leeuwarden will be reduced from Main Operating Base (MOB) to Deployed Operating Base (DOB). Volkel will be directing the activities of Leeuwarden airbase in the future. The squadron that will disappear in Leeuwarden will be the no 323 Squadron. This unit will move to the United States to provide training for the new JSF pilots. The expectation is that the no 312 Squadron and the no 313 Squadron at Volkel Air Base and the no 322 Squadron at Leeuwarden Air Base will receive the JSF. A drone unit will be stationed at Leeuwarden Air Base next to the JSF. This unit is likely to be the no 306 Squadron. The no 306 Squadron was in the age of the Starfighter and in the early years of the F-16 the photo reconnaissance squadron of the Dutch Air Force. Plans exist to purchase four RQ-1 Predator drones for the Dutch Air Force. In addition, there is an option open to buy another four. How concrete the plans are is not yet clear; it is not clear whether the armed variant will be purchased.

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