The Netherlands

The Royal Netherlands Air Force

Formative years - Luchtvaartafdeeling (LVA)

The predecessor of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) was installed as the Luchtvaart Afdeeling (LVA, Army Aviation Service) by Royal Decreet, on 1 July 1913. It started with a single leased van Meel 'Brik', a license built Farman, one commander and three pilots. Later that year three Farman F-20 biplanes arrived from France. They operated from Soesterberg, the cradle of Dutch military aviation. In 1914 an additional six Farman F-22s were acquired. More aircraft arrived and the LVA made a modest start as an aerial force in support of the Royal Netherlands Army. During the First World War the Netherlands remained politically neutral and was only able to obtain a limited amount of Fokker D.III aircraft. Others, like the Caudron G.III, Nieuport 17 and Rumpler C.V were only delivered by 1918. Only Dutch constructor Spijker was able to locally produce some 56 V.2 trainers. During the war however, as foreign planes made an emergency landing on Dutch soil, lots of these aircraft were interned and bought. Consequently, at the end of the First World War, the LVA had obtained 71 foreign planes, all different types by different manufacturers. With more active aircraft, there was also a need for more airfields. New airbases were built at Gilze-Rijen, Venlo, Vlissingen and at Schiphol.

The interbellum

In 1919 Anthony Fokker fled from Germany and illegally exported a trainload full of airplanes. Out of this trainload, twenty Fokker D.VII fighters and 62 C.I trainers were bought by the Dutch Government. From 1921 on, the red-white-blue roundel was introduced, replacing the earlier orange roundel. In the Interbellum, the atmosphere of war weariness combined with the worldwide economic crisis slowed down further expansion of the LVA. The service was almost uniquely equipped with aircraft built by local Dutch manufacturers like Fokker and Koolhoven. It was not until 1937 that the Dutch Government realized that there was an upcoming threat in the East. Orders for additional aircraft not only went to Fokker and Koolhoven but were also placed at Douglas and Curtiss-Wright in the USA. However the Netherlands were not the only country that sought expansion of their air force, so not every aircraft ordered was already delivered at the beginning of World War II.

Coming of age - World War II

At the start of the Second World War, the RNLAF had a total of 125 combat ready aircraft, including 20 Fokker D-XXI fighters, 26 Fokker G-I twin boom fighters, 12 Fokker T-V bombers and 12 Douglas-Northrop 8A-3N bombers, all stationed at airfields in the western part of the Netherlands. During the attack by Nazi Germany, which started on 10 may 1940 and lasted for five days, 328 German aircraft were shot down, including 220 Ju-52 trimotor transports, at a loss of 94 Dutch aircraft. A considerable number of the training aircraft managed to escape to England, together with ground personnel of the LVA. With these resources a Dutch squadron operating under RAF command was formed on 12 June 1943. This was 322 squadron, equipped with different types of Spitfires.

Until the present day - Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu)

After the war, it was an enormous task to rebuilt the RNLAF with training and transport as main priority. June 27th 1948 was an important day as on this day the first jet aircraft arrived. With the introduction of the Gloster Meteor, the RNLAF was ready for its air defence task. Under the umbrella of the NATO, founded in 1949, the RNLAF was organised into a solid force, part of the 2 ATAF tactical force, with more squadrons operating more and modern jet aircraft. Under the American Mutual Defence Assistance Program, 62 NA F-86K Sabre jetfighters are obtained, next to Republic F-84 Thunderjet bomber and RF-84 Thunderflash reconnaissance aircraft. For training, the RNLAF used the Fokker S-11s and Harvards for ab-initio and the Fokker S-14 Machtrainer and Lockheed T-33A for the next stage. For liaison, some Beavers and Super Cubs are acquired. The C-47 Dakota was used for transport tasks, later replaced by locally built Fokker F27 Friendship/Troopship aircraft. The next generation of aircraft was introduced in the sixties with the introduction of the (T/R)F-104G Starfighter jetfighters, also partly built by Fokker. In the seventies, the NF-5A/B fighter bombers was introduced as a replacement for the Thunderjets. Also in this period, all liaison airplanes were replaced by helicopters: the Alouette III and the Bo105C. The next stage was the replacement of the Starfighter by the GD F-16A/B Fighting Falcons, built by Fokker with the first F-16 delivered in 1979. A total of 213 aircraft were acquired, also to replace the NF-5A/B.

After the Cold War, the RNLAF can be considered one of Europe's most rejuvenated and modern air arms. With the fall of the Warsaw pact and the changed world order, new doctrines were needed necessitating different aircraft like long-range transport aircraft and tankers. Therefore, Lockheed C-130H Hercules transporters and KDC-10 tankers were acquired. Due to the new 'Global Air Power' policy, also the helicopter force was amended and modernised. More emphasis on the Air Mobile brigade in the Quick Reaction Force required more and larger helicopters, but also a wing of armed assault helicopters. For that reason, the Alouette 3 and Bo105, which both have been used for observation and liaison tasks for many years, have been replaced by 17 AS532U2 Cougar Mk.IIs and 13 CH-47D Chinooks for transport duties, and by 30 AH-64D Apaches in the attack role. 

From 2006, the RNLAF has changed into an operational command, known as the Commando Luchtstrijdkrachten ( Air Force Command ), tasked with providing the operational assets and is responsible for the training of the defence staff and keeping them operational. Therefore, all assets, including all airplanes and helicopters, are no longer property of the RNLAF but are transferred to the Defensie Material Organisatie ( Defence Assets Organization ). With the new organization, also plans for further cost saving measures were announced. The once mighty fleet of F-16s has further been reduced to 108 airplanes. The surplus of modernised F-16's has been sold to Chile (Peace Amstel I, 11 F-16AMs and 7 F-16BMs) and Jordan (Peace Falcon IV, eleven F-16BMs). The F-16s has been updated with several Mid-Life-updates but now at the end of her service-live. Therefore most of the F-16s are already replaced by the F-35A.

By now the F-35 is part of the Air Combat Command (ACC) and is operated with 322 squadron at Leeuwarden Air Force base. Since July 2022 also 313 Squadron at Volkel airbase received their first F-35s and the squadron is steadily filled with new aircraft. 312 Squadron is the remaining sole F-16 squadron and will phase out this aircraft in the coming years.

All helicopter squadrons (298 Squadron CH-47F Chinook, 300 Squadron AS532U2 Cougar and 301 Squadron AH64D Apache) are commanded by the Defence Helicopter Command (DHC) and part of the RNLAF. Most of the Apaches are already shipped back to the USA to remanufacture them as AH-64Es. The AS532U2 will be soldier on till 2030/2035 and will be replaced by the H225M from 2028.

All transport aircraft are part of the Air Mobility Command (AMC) and are based at Eindhoven airbase. The AMC is divided in two squadrons (334 and 336) and the Multinational MRTT Unit (MMU) which operates the A330MRTT. 334 Squadron is operating the Gulfstream G650EG and 336 Squadron operates the C-130 Hercules. The C-130H(-30)s will be replaced by five C-390 aircraft from 2026.

Next to manned aircraft the RNLAF also improved on their unmanned operations with a desire to operate 8 MQ-9 Reapers to gain extra and better intelligence over mission areas. 

The Royal Netherlands Navy

The Royal Netherlands Navy  The Marine Luchtvaartdienst ( MLD ) of the Royal Netherlands Navy ( RNLN ) had its start on 18th of August, 1917. It started with the same aircraft as the air force like the Spyker, Fokker and Koolhoven. But it was only ten years later when airplanes especially designed for naval services were bought, like the Dornier Wal flying boats and the Fokker T-VIII seaplanes. They operated from airbases like De Kooy, very close to the harbour of Den Helder, or from the De Mok at Texel, especially made for seaplanes. During the Second World War, the spririt of the MLD was placed in squadrons under the Command of the Royal Navy, being the famous 320 squadron and the still active 860 squadron.

After the war, the MLD was developed to a large force, with its peak period in the sixties with more than 100 airplanes  divided under 11 squadrons. Especially the aircraft carrier Hr Ms Karel Doorman had an enormous impact in the development of this naval service with airplanes for air defence tasks, like the Hawker Seahawk, or for anti submarine tasks, like the Grumman Avenger and the Grumman Tracker.

Helicopters were introduced in 1950, first for rescue services with the Sikorsky S-51, S-55 and Agusta-Bell UH-1, later also for anti-submarine tasks, first with the Sikorsky S-58, later with the Westland Wasp. With the decommissioning of the aircraft carrier, the MLD was diminished to four squadrons, two with long-range anti-submarine aircraft like the Lockheed Neptune, Breguet Atlantic and the Lockheed Orion, being 320sq and 321sq, while two were operating with the Westland Lynx, being 7sq and 860sq.

During budget cuts, the nine Atlantic aircraft were retired in 1984 while the 13 Orions were retired without replacement in 2004. Since then both squadrons, 7 squadron and 860 squadron, are commanded by the Defensie Helikopter Commando (Defence Helicopter Command, DHC), part of the RNLAF. All upgraded SH-14D Lynx helicopter at the Maritime Air Station De Kooy were assigned to 860 squadron, for SAR duties and for detachments on board of naval frigates. The other squadron, 7 squadron, has no helicopters and is a training group only. The Lynx helicopters has been retired by September 2012 and replaced by 20 NH90 NATO Frigate Helicopters which are all part of 860 squadron.

The NH90 is currently in training to perform amphious operations on board. This should be completed by 2026. However, these helicopters already stil operates as a shipboard helicopter out of Royal Netherlands Navy fregates. Till 2026 the amphious gap-fill role is filled in by AS532U2 Cougars of 300 Squadron. SAR duties are currently performed by two Bristow AW189 helicopters which operate out of Den Helder and Midden Zeeland.

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