More F-35 Fighters on Dutch Defense Shopping List

 - June 3, 2022, 5:51 AM
Two KLu F-35As are seen during a February 2022 exercise with a pair from the UK-based 48th Fighter Wing. Having been bought by eight NATO nations to date, plus Switzerland and NATO applicant Finland, the F-35 is key to the defense of Europe. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought the defense of Europe sharply into focus, and many NATO nations are significantly increasing their defense expenditure as a result. The Netherlands is one of them and has committed an additional €5 billion per year to the military budget, representing an increase of around 40 percent. The future spending plans are laid out in a white paper—“A Stronger Netherlands, A Safer Europe: Investing in a Robust NATO and EU”—that was introduced by defense minister Kajsa Ollongren on June 1.

For the Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu, royal air force) the main element is the purchase of six more Lockheed Martin F-35As, raising the total number to 52. This will permit the creation of a third full squadron to join the current 313 Squadron at Volkel and 322 Squadron at Leeuwarden. The white paper also notes that “the entire F-35 fleet will be expanded with modern long-range and precision weapons” and that the future use of unmanned fighters is being examined. Long-range engagement and suppression of enemy air defenses are regarded as important aspects of future KLu operations.

The number of General Atomics MQ-9A Reapers will also be doubled to eight to increase maritime and overland intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance (ISR) capacity. The Reapers will also be armed in the future, with that program to enter the parliamentary approval process next year.

For the Eindhoven-based transport fleet, it is planned to replace the four current C-130H/H-30s of 336 Squadron with C-130Js and to add one more aircraft. The single Gulfstream IV used by 334 Squadron for VIP transport is also to be replaced this year. A series of block upgrades is planned for the AH-64 and CH-47 helicopter fleets during the remainder of the decade.

The Defence Helicopter Command’s single squadron of Airbus AS532 Cougars is to be upgraded and modified for the special forces support mission, in line with the re-roling of a battalion of the army’s airmobile brigade into a special operations unit. The Cougars are ultimately to be replaced by a new medium utility helicopter, with that process due to get underway next year. The NH90 helicopter is also due for replacement around the end of the decade, with a requirement slated for issue in 2027.