Tag: RNlAF

The Netherlands Selects The Embraer C-390 As New Tactical Cargo Aircraft

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The Netherlands Selects The Embraer C-390 As New Tactical Cargo Aircraft
File photo of a Brazilian C-390M converted to the KC-390 tanker variant. (Photo: Embraer)

The C-390 will replace the four aging C-130Hs of the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

The Dutch Ministry of Defense identified the new tactical cargo aircraft, that will replace the current fleet of four aging C-130H Hercules aircraft: the  Embraer C-390 Millennium. With the selection of the Brazilian-made cargo aircraft, the Netherlands are bound to become the third European country to order it after Portugal and Hungary. The C-390 was the winner of the assessment against the U.S.-made Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules.

The replacement of the C-130H fleet was initially planned between 2031 and 2033, however a persistent low deployability and the changed security situation in eastern Europe pushed the government to replace the fleet earlier than expected. The evacuation from Afghanistan, for an instance, underlined the importance of guaranteed availability of tactical and strategic transport capability, with the Dutch armed forces recognizing in the Defense Memorandum 2022 an increased need for transport, taking the required flying hours from 2,400 to 4,000 hours.

Other than the flight hours, the MoD set a number of requirements: a payload of at least 60 paratroopers; the ability to transport different types of equipment over a distance of 2,000 nautical miles to unpaved and short runways or eventually to be airdropped; a MEDEVAC/CASEVAC capability for seriously injured people who require continuous medical care while in flight; self-protection systems and secure communication systems. Last but not least, the aircraft has to be already available as Military Off The Shelf.

The assessment for the new cargo aircraft was performed on the only two candidates considered suitable for the role: the C-130J and C-390M. The documents released by the Dutch MoD mention that the C-390M was assessed to be the only candidate within the budget that can meet the requirements set within the framework of Commercial/Military Off The Shelf (COTS/MOTS), as well as meeting the delivery and certification time schedule set by the MoD.

Also, the MoD says that, compared to the C-130J, the C-390M has greater availability and requires significantly less maintenance, allowing more hours to be flown with the same number of aircraft. The documents continue by explaining that the C-390M scores higher than the C-130J on a number of operational and technical requirements, meeting the operational needs, while the C-130J can meet the Dutch operational needs, but must then be equipped with various mission-specific elements that are not available as COTS/MOTS.

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File photo of two Dutch C-130Hs. (Photo: RNLAF)

” data-medium-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/the-netherlands-selects-the-embraer-c-390-as-new-tactical-cargo-aircraft-2.png” data-large-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/the-netherlands-selects-the-embraer-c-390-as-new-tactical-cargo-aircraft.png” class=”size-large wp-image-79858″ src=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/the-netherlands-selects-the-embraer-c-390-as-new-tactical-cargo-aircraft.png” alt width=”706″ height=”470″ srcset=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/the-netherlands-selects-the-embraer-c-390-as-new-tactical-cargo-aircraft.png 706w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/the-netherlands-selects-the-embraer-c-390-as-new-tactical-cargo-aircraft-2.png 460w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/the-netherlands-selects-the-embraer-c-390-as-new-tactical-cargo-aircraft-3.png 128w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/the-netherlands-selects-the-embraer-c-390-as-new-tactical-cargo-aircraft-4.png 768w, https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Embraer_C-390M_Netherlands_2.png 1024w” sizes=”(max-width: 706px) 100vw, 706px”>

File photo of two Dutch C-130Hs. (Photo: RNLAF)

Another comparison is related to the number of aircraft needed to fly the required flight hours: the C-390M can meet the minimum requirement of 2,400 flight hours with four aircraft and the requirement of 4,000 flight hours with five aircraft. On the other hand, according to the information obtained by the Dutch MoD, the C-130J already requires at least five aircraft for 2,400 flying hours and they are not sufficient to meet the requirement of 4,000 hours.

The Dutch Defense is now going ahead with the acquisition of five C-390M aircraft plus a cargo hold simulator and cockpit simulator. During the assessment phase it was expected to replace the first C-130H with the first C-390M from 2026. Even with some delays during the assessment process, Embraer assured the MoD that it will still be able to deliver the five aircraft and simulators in accordance with the delivery schedule. The costs of the replacement programme are estimated between € 1 billion and € 2.5 billion.

H/T @Gerjon for the heads-up

About Stefano D’Urso
Stefano D’Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he’s also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.

Dutch F-35s, Canadian F-18s and Italian Tornados Among The Highlights Of Frisian Flag 2022

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Dutch F-35s, Canadian F-18s and Italian Tornados Among The Highlights Of Frisian Flag 2022
One of the six CF-188 Hornet of the RCAF that took part in Frisian Flag 2022. (All images: Edwin Schimmel)

After being cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, Frisian Flag 2022 eventually took place, despite the current crisis in Ukraine.

Frisian Flag is a large-scale exercise series organized, annually, by the 322 Tactical Training Evaluation and Standardization Squadron of the RNLAF (Royal Netherlands Air Force). The series, has been running since 1992 and has got the current name in 1999. After the 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, at the beginning of March it was still uncertain whether this year’s edition could take place due to the Ukrainian war.

But after the go ahead was given for the two-week Flag exercise fighter and support aircraft from five different NATO Allies landed in the northern part of the Netherlands to train together from Mar. 28 to Apr. 8, 2022 at Leeuwarden Air Base, a Dutch airfield that has been the center of knowledge in the field of target practice and fighter flight operations since the 1950s. This is due to its strategic location close to the exercise areas above the North Sea and the existing military airspace above the north of the Netherlands. But also because of the extensive facilities at the airbase and the nearby Cornfieldrange on the Vliehors.

<img data-attachment-id="79298" data-permalink="https://theaviationist.com/2022/04/10/frisian-flag-2022/frisian-flag-22_1/" data-orig-file="https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Frisian-Flag-22_1.jpg" data-orig-size="2000,1333" data-comments-opened="0" data-image-meta="{"aperture":"5","credit":"","camera":"Canon EOS 7D Mark II","caption":"","created_timestamp":"1649405347","copyright":"","focal_length":"158","iso":"200","shutter_speed":"0.0008","title":"","orientation":"1"}" data-image-title="Frisian Flag 22_1" data-image-description data-image-caption="

Tornado IDS from the Italian 6 Stormo departing out of Leeuwarden Air Base for another 1,5 hour mission. While the EF2000 flew only the morning mission during the first week the Ghedi Torando’s flew both weeks, but only during the afternoon.

” data-medium-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-10.jpg” data-large-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-2.jpg” class=”size-large wp-image-79298″ src=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-2.jpg” alt width=”706″ height=”471″ srcset=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-2.jpg 706w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-10.jpg 460w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-11.jpg 128w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-12.jpg 768w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-13.jpg 1536w, https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Frisian-Flag-22_1.jpg 2000w” sizes=”(max-width: 706px) 100vw, 706px”>

Tornado IDS from the Italian 6 Stormo departing out of Leeuwarden Air Base for another 1,5 hour mission. While the EF2000 flew only the morning mission during the first week the Ghedi Torando’s flew both weeks, but only during the afternoon.

The main goal of the latest Frisian Flag was to prepare participating pilots and support teams for large international conflicts and work together with international partners to fly complex missions in high tempo scenarios. For this reason, around 30 aircraft of all types, including fighters, transports, tankers and electronic warfare aircraft flew two daytime missions each day. Our contributor Edwin Schimmel visited Leeuwarden to report about the drills and take the photos of the participating assets you can find in this article.

Among the interesting assets deployed to Leeuwarden there were six Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornets. The Canadian fighters have become frequent visitors of the European theatre: at the end of last year, Canada has completed its sixth rotation to Romania, in support of iteration 57 of the NATO enhanced Air Policing mission.

<img data-attachment-id="79305" data-permalink="https://theaviationist.com/2022/04/10/frisian-flag-2022/frisian-flag-22_9/" data-orig-file="https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Frisian-Flag-22_9.jpg" data-orig-size="2000,1333" data-comments-opened="0" data-image-meta="{"aperture":"10","credit":"","camera":"Canon EOS 7D Mark II","caption":"","created_timestamp":"1649412710","copyright":"","focal_length":"400","iso":"200","shutter_speed":"0.00125","title":"","orientation":"1"}" data-image-title="Frisian Flag 22_9" data-image-description data-image-caption="

Pretty worn CF-188 returning to base catching some sunlight short final runway 23. Although it was 433 Squadron participating most Hornets wore 425 Squadron markings being on loan.

” data-medium-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-14.jpg” data-large-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-3.jpg” loading=”lazy” class=”size-large wp-image-79305″ src=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-3.jpg” alt width=”706″ height=”471″ srcset=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-3.jpg 706w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-14.jpg 460w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-15.jpg 128w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-16.jpg 768w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-17.jpg 1536w, https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Frisian-Flag-22_9.jpg 2000w” sizes=”(max-width: 706px) 100vw, 706px”>

Pretty worn CF-188 returning to base catching some sunlight short final runway 23. Although it was 433 Squadron participating most Hornets wore 425 Squadron markings being on loan.

Other remarkable participants were the RNLAF F-35A Lightning II jets at their first Frisian Flag exercise. The Dutch took part in the exercise with F16AM/BM of the 312Sqn, AS532 of the 300Sqn and AH-64D of the 301Sqn.

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Dutch F-35A Lighting II taking off from runway 23. It was the first time 322 Squadron participated with their new F-35A’s after they received their Initial Operational Capability (IOC) status last year.

” data-medium-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-18.jpg” data-large-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-4.jpg” loading=”lazy” class=”size-large wp-image-79306″ src=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-4.jpg” alt width=”706″ height=”471″ srcset=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-4.jpg 706w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-18.jpg 460w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-19.jpg 128w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-20.jpg 768w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-21.jpg 1536w, https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Frisian-Flag-22_2.jpg 2000w” sizes=”(max-width: 706px) 100vw, 706px”>

Dutch F-35A Lighting II taking off from runway 23. It was the first time 322 Squadron participated with their new F-35A’s after they received their Initial Operational Capability (IOC) status last year.
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Maybe the last time Dutch F-16’s joined exercise Frisian Flag. The Volkel based 312 Squdron sent six of their F-16AM/BM’s up north which will be retired in 2024.

” data-medium-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-22.jpg” data-large-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-5.jpg” loading=”lazy” class=”size-large wp-image-79301″ src=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-5.jpg” alt width=”706″ height=”471″ srcset=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-5.jpg 706w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-22.jpg 460w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-23.jpg 128w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-24.jpg 768w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-25.jpg 1536w, https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Frisian-Flag-22_5.jpg 2000w” sizes=”(max-width: 706px) 100vw, 706px”>

Maybe the last time Dutch F-16’s joined exercise Frisian Flag. The Volkel based 312 Squdron sent six of their F-16AM/BM’s up north which will be retired in 2024.

Initially, the Polish Air Force was also planned to participate, but the service had to cancel due to the crisis in Ukraine and the need to adopt a heightened readiness status at home. The Polish were replaced by the Italian Air Force that took part in the drills with two Tornado IDS of the 6° Stormo from Ghedi Air Base and two F-2000A of the 51° Stormo from Istrana AB. German and British Eurofighters also took part in the drills but did not to fly from Leeuwarden launching from their homebase.



The American contribution was also significant, with 12x F-16CM Fighting Falcons belonging to the 31st Fighter Wing from Aviano AB, in northeastern Italy.

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The USAF joined this 2022 edition of Frisian Flag with no less than 12 F-16C’s from the Aviano based 31st Fighter Wing. Two of them wore the Have Glass paint.

” data-medium-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-26.jpg” data-large-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-6.jpg” loading=”lazy” class=”size-large wp-image-79302″ src=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-6.jpg” alt width=”706″ height=”471″ srcset=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-6.jpg 706w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-26.jpg 460w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-27.jpg 128w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-28.jpg 768w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/dutch-f-35s-canadian-f-18s-and-italian-tornados-among-the-highlights-of-frisian-flag-2022-29.jpg 1536w, https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Frisian-Flag-22_6.jpg 2000w” sizes=”(max-width: 706px) 100vw, 706px”>

The USAF joined this 2022 edition of Frisian Flag with no less than 12 F-16C’s from the Aviano based 31st Fighter Wing. Two of them wore the Have Glass paint.

The French contingent included both 5x French Air Force Mirage 2000Ds and 2x French Navy Rafales.

<img data-attachment-id="79300" data-permalink="https://theaviationist.com/2022/04/10/frisian-flag-2022/frisian-flag-22_4/" data-orig-file="https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Frisian-Flag-22_4.jpg" data-orig-size="2000,1333" data-comments-opened="0" data-image-meta="{"aperture":"5","credit":"","camera":"Canon EOS 7D Mark II","caption":"","created_timestamp":"1649407432","copyright":"","focal_length":"200","iso":"200","shutter_speed":"0.0008","title":"","orientation":"1"}" data-image-title="Frisian Flag 22_4" data-image-description data-image-caption="

French Mirage 2000D with full afterburner blasting out of Leeuwarden. Underneath the centre line it is carrying an inert GBU12 bomb.

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French Mirage 2000D with full afterburner blasting out of Leeuwarden. Underneath the centre line it is carrying an inert GBU12 bomb.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force Has Declared Its F-35A Operational

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Two Dutch F-35s in flight. (Image credit: KLu).

The Dutch F-35A aircraft have achieved the IOC (Initial Operational Capability).

On Dec. 27, 2021, the Netherlands MOD and Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNlAF) have officially declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for their F-35A fleet. As a consequence, the Netherlands have become the eighth country with the RNlAF being the 12th military service to declare IOC for its F-35 fleet.

The IOC “certifies” that the RNlAF is able to deploy a small contingent of 4 F-35As with personnel and equipment anywhere in the world for a short period of time: in other words, the Dutch Lightnings can be deployed operationally in theatre, to support national and multi-national operations.

The IOC milestone was achieved after going through several steps and a series of exercises at home and abroad, including a 9,000-km-long surprise attack on a Dutch Range as part of a “Rapid Reaction Test”, and exercise Frisian Lightning II that saw the 322 Sqn move from Leeuwarden to Volkel to prepare the unit for a deployment in the shortest possible time. In addition, the knowledge gained during the Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) has led to this milestone.

A total of 24 F-35As have been delivered to the RNLAF so far. The first operational F-35s arrived in the Netherlands from the Cameri FACO (Final Assembly and Check Out) in 2019. Dutch crews have surpassed more than 9,085 flight hours to date, with 55 pilots and 262 maintainers supporting the fleet.

“The declaration of IOC ushers in a new era of air power that gives the RNLAF transformational capabilities,” F-35 Program Vice President and General Manager Bridget Lauderdale said. “I am proud of the Lockheed Martin team’s commitment to delivering the most effective, survivable and connected fighter to our partners in the Netherlands.”

According to the current plans, by the end of 2024, 46 F-35As will replace the current fleet of F-16 MLU in RNlAF service.

A Dutch F-35A (Image credit: KLu)

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.

Draken International Acquires Soon-To-Be Retired F-16s From Netherlands And Norway

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File photo of a Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 landing during the recent exercise “Gioia Falcon”. (Photo: Author)

The 24 Vipers will join the company’s fleet of fighter jets used for the Combat Air Force/Contracted Air Support (CAF/CAS) program in the US.

Draken International announced last week two contracts to acquire a fleet of second-hand F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Netherlands and Norway. The company is set to receive 12 aircraft from each country as they get retired from 2022. The exact timeline is not yet known as the transfer has to be first approved by U.S., Dutch and Norwegian authorities and some classified systems need to be removed before the aircraft can be delivered to Draken.

The sale of the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s was already expected. As we reported earlier this year, the Dutch Parliament was informed on Jun. 29, 2021, that an interdepartmental Defense Materiel Sales Committee, consisting of representatives of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Defence, approved the sale of 12 F-16s to Draken International. The Falcons will come out of the F-16 End Life of Type (ELOT) program after the Dutch retire their F-16s starting in 2022.

The F-16 is currently operated in the RNLAF by only one unit, the 312 Squadron at Volkel Air Base. The squadron is the last unit to operate the Viper as the other squadrons are gradually moving to the F-35 Lightning II. The remaining F-16s will be retired in batches from 2022 to 2024/2025, when the F-35 is expected to reach the Full Operational Capability and take over the roles of the F-16. Draken has also been offered the option to acquire an additional 28 F-16s from these batches.

Regarding for the Norwegian contract, the Forsvarsmateriell (Norwegian Defense Material Agency) has been working since 2019 to decide what to do with the Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s as they get retired this month and fully replaced by the F-35. As for the Netherlands, only one RNoAF unit is still operating the Viper, the 331 skv at Bodø Air Base. Other than Draken, the government is looking to sell as many of the remaining F-16s as possible to allied countries.

File photo of a Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16B in flight. (Photo: RNoAF)

At this time of writing, it is unknown if the two deals with Draken International only include single-seat F-16As or, more probably, also dual-seaters F-16Bs. It will also be interesting to see which systems will be removed from these F-16s before the transfer, how they will be modified after the delivery and eventually the adversary paint scheme they will be given. The aircraft are expected to be refurbished before the delivery and accompanied by their support equipment.

In their current configuration, the F-16s sold to Draken were initially delivered in the Block 1 configuration and later upgraded up to the Block 20 Mid Life Update configuration, with capabilities considered comparable to the F-16C Block 50/52 configuration. Both countries also installed some customized systems on top of the MLU upgrade, which might be the ones that will be removed before the transfer to the US company.

Following these contracts, Draken International will become the second company to provide contracted F-16 for the training of the U.S. Armed Forces, after the Canadian company Top Aces started receiving the F-16s acquired from the Israeli Air Force this year. The Vipers will join the fleets of Mirage F-1s, L-159s Honey Badger and A-4s Skyhawk already operated by the company to support the Combat Air Force/Contracted Air Support program. The F-16s are considered a step further toward an improved contracted threat replication, as they are 4th gen aircraft and thus more modern and capable compared to the ones currently used in this role.

As we already extensively explained in past articles here at The Aviationist, the original Combat Air Force/Contracted Air Support (CAF/CAS) multi-award contract, was announced to cover 40,000 flight hours of adversary training at 12 different air bases and 10,000 flight hours is support of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) training at nine Army bases. After some reductions, the current program’s first phase features a little less than 9,000 flight sorties at six bases for the first year and an optional three year-extension for a total of over 26,000 flight sorties.

The role of aggressors/adversary units is to train fighter pilots in the most realistic way in extremely important. While some services have their own units that replicate paint schemes, markings, insignias and, above all, the tactics, used in combat by their near peer adversaries, these are usually costly to operate and maintain: experienced aircrews, constant training and the proper assets are not cheap.  For this reason, both in the U.S. and abroad, even those air forces who have the assets, budget and experience to insource adversary support services increasingly rely on contracted aggressor services provided by private companies.

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s Successfully Complete Ex. ‘Gioia Falcon’ With The Italian Air Force

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A F-16 of the RNLAF with a celebratory special tail takes off for a training mission during Gioia Falcon. In the corner: the patch created for the exercise. (All images credit: Author)

11 Dutch F-16s deployed to Gioia del Colle Air Base to practice operations in non-familiar areas and fly COMAO missions.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force deployed 11 of its F-16 Fighting Falcons to Gioia del Colle Air Base in Italy for a two-week joint exercise with the Italian Air Force, dubbed “Gioia Falcon”, from Nov. 12 to Nov. 26, 2021. The fighters belong to 312 Squadron “Bonzo”, which is the last RNLAF unit to operate the F-16 from Volkel Air Base.

The F-16 is slowly nearing the end of its operational life in the Netherlands, after F-16 operations ceased at Leeuwarden with 322 Squadron this summer to make room for the F-35 Lightning II and the remaining aircraft were all moved to Volkel. The latter also used host a second F-16 unit, the 313 Squadron, but this is currently in the process of being converted to the F-35. The F-16 is expected to remain in service until 2024/2025, when it is expected that the F-35 will obtain the Full Operational Capability.

We had the opportunity to visit Gioia del Colle to take photos of the flight operations and interview the aircrews during the two Media Days of the Exercise on Nov. 23 and 24.

During our visit we got to see which aircraft were deployed on the flight line, with their serials being J-005, J-014, J-062, J-063, J-136, J-197, J-509, J-512, J-515, J-644. As you can notice, these are only ten of the eleven aircraft in the detachment, as one of the F-16s reportedly suffered an engine stall during a training mission on Nov. 18 or 19 and subsequently performed a precautionary landing at Crotone airport. According to a low-resolution photo posted at the beginning of the exercise, the aircraft should be the twin-seater F-16B J-368.

One of the aircraft, J-197, sported the special tail paint which has been recently applied to celebrate the 70th anniversary of 312 Squadron. The special tail shows the crossed swords and the red lightning bolt of the unit’s insignia, as well as the writing “70 years 312 Squadron”. According to the reports, the first public appearance this F-16 with the new special paint was in early November when the aircraft was at the lead of 14 F-16s during an elephant walk at Volkel Air Base.

The assets which took part in the exercise. (Photo: Italian Air Force)

The Gioia Falcon exercise was initially planned for 2020 at Trapani-Birgi Air Base, however the plan had to be postponed for one year because of the COVID restrictions, requiring the choice of a new host base. Even if the preparations for the deployment in Italy were already completed, the new location required the restart of the six-month planning process, including the site surveys and the logistic preparations to support the 11 Vipers (as the F-16s are dubbed by the pilots) and about 150 people, including aircrews and support personnel.

The Italian Air Force assisted its Dutch counterpart in the logistical effort, giving access to briefing and debriefing systems and the ACMI (Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation) to allow aircrews to see and analyze the full picture of their mission in order to make consistent debriefings. The Italians also gave space for all the equipment that was brought over and an entire hangar for maintenance. In fact, the RNLAF brought over, in addition to the F-16s and the equipment in the containers, most of the vehicles needed for flight line operations, practicing for forward deployed operations.

Even if 312 Squadron is the last RNLAF F-16 unit, the aircrews are relatively young, with many having only recently joined the ranks after the graduation from the B-Course in Tucson, Arizona, and using this exercise to work towards their combat readiness. The squadron was not able to attend any international exercises abroad during the last two years, again because of COVID, so it was decided to deploy to Italy to practice operations from unfamiliar airfields and in different air spaces. Another reason was to gain experience while integrating with foreign units and different aircraft.

An Italian F-2000 Typhoon returns from a training mission.

Among the different assets involved in Gioia Falcon with the Dutch F-16s there were the F-2000 Typhoons and HH-139s of the local 36° Stormo Caccia (Fighter Wing) and the F-35As of the 32° Stormo from Amendola Air Base, as well the Italian G550 CAEW and NATO E-3A airborne early warning aircraft and ground-based fighter controllers from the Italian radar units located near the area of the exercise. NATO’s Deployable Air Command and Control Centre based at Poggio Renatico carried out the exercise’s command and control.

Most of the missions of the exercise were flown in the so-called “area Calabria”, covering a large portion of airspace which includes the Calabria region and the Ionian Sea from the surface to FL600 (60,000 ft). This airspace was then divided in the “Red” and “Blue” area, depending on the mission to be flown, but usually the Reds had the larger portion in order for the Blues to simulate deep penetration missions inside the adversary’s airspace.

Training involved multiple types of missions, such as Offensive Counter Air (OCA), with the fighters sweeping the airspace to create a path for strikers, bombing strike missions and Close Air Support (CAS) in support of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC), as well as Defensive Counter Air (DCA) and Air Interdiction.

A Dutch F-16 departs from Gioia del Colle during the morning wave.

The Commander of 312 Squadron provided some more details about the missions through his official Twitter account, mentioning that the Large Force Employment scenario involved the creation of a no-fly zone to protect civilians in the area of responsibility. The Red forces violated the no-fly zone multiple times, even trying to attack the Blue airfield in Gioia del Colle, before being repelled.

These actions were followed by strikes against several targets, which however gave the Red forces the chance to shoot down a Blue aircraft (obviously only simulated). Considering when the info about this simulated shot down was published, that F-16 might have been the one that performed the precautionary landing, transforming the unexpected event in a new chance for further training. The simulated crash was, in fact, followed by a Combat Search And Rescue operation to recover the pilot.

All these missions were performed both as “stand-alone” packages or as part of COMposite Air Operations (COMAO) with and without the Italian fighters. As a matter of fact, the exercise’s main focus were the COMAOs, but it was also used as an occasion to integrate during close maneuvering (such as BFMs and ACMs) with Italian assets, maintain pilot’s currencies and training upgrades.

Usually, the aircraft flew two waves each day, including night waves, one of those was dedicated to COMAOs and the other for the other training needs. During the first day of our visit, the night wave was dedicated to a COMAO with F-16s and Typhoons. Each wave involved about eight Dutch F-16s and variable numbers of Italian aircraft, with scenarios evolving day-by-day and increasing difficulty.

The exercise generated about 150 missions for an approximate total of 240 flight hours, which helped to consolidate the interoperability among the participating aircraft and to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency while using common standard Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs). These TTPs are adopted in multinational and complex scenarios and cover the entire spectrum of the missions that can be performed in modern air operations.

The F-35 participation provided a chance to train the integration between fourth and fifth generation aircraft, which are currently in service in both countries, adding training value to the missions. The Lightning II proved once again its versatility in “omnirole” tasks, with its sensors and data fusion allowing the 5th gen aircraft to best lead the mission package in every kind of scenario.

The pilot of the special tail F-16 salutes the photographers as he taxies to the runway.

Interestingly, the F-35s took part to Gioia Falcon in the ranks of both the Red and the Blue forces, much like the US Air Force is doing during Red Flag exercises, giving the 4th gen aircraft the chance not only to integrate with 5th gen aircraft but also to practice how to counter them and hunt them down. During our interview, the pilots mentioned that this is becoming the standard also during everyday’s training.

As we reported, during the same timeframe of Gioia Falcon, and precisely on November 21, the British and U.S. F-35Bs embarked on the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier practiced cross deck operations with Italian Air Force’s and Navy’s F-35Bs embarked on the ITS Cavour aircraft carrier. Even if the exercise tool place while both ships were in navigation in the Ionian Sea, the same area used by Gioia Falcon, the Dutch F-16s did not integrate with the embarked fighters as the activities of the two exercises were kept separate.

“Exercise Gioia Falcon provided great results. It demonstrated perfect synergy between flight crews and maintenance teams, allowing integration and interoperability among different generation of aircraft and between the air and surface components,” said Colonel Antonio Vergallo, Commander of the 36th Fighter Wing.  “It has been a great opportunity to exchange operational experience among NATO pilots and operationally assess the great swing role capability of the Eurofighter in an integrated scenario.”

The F-16 waiting for the night wave as the sun sets over Gioia del Colle.

The integration and synergy of the air component with the surface component in these complex multinational scenarios was highlighted during the Close Air Support missions in support of the Joint Terminal Attack Controllers. The JTACs deployed in the area of operations, assigned to the “Fucilieri dell’Aria” (Air Riflemen) of the 16° Stormo, directed the fighters while performing simulated attacks both during day and night.

During our interview, the pilots of both nations highlighted the importance of this kind of exercises to have a chance for a confrontation with other NATO partners. In fact, training together allows to share experiences and lessons learned after the missions, as well as offering a different point of view about how the same mission set is executed by different air forces. This, in turn, allows the continuous refinement of the TTPs to better adapt to future scenarios.

On the other hand, training abroad offers the chance to train in a new unfamiliar environment, draining the situational awareness accumulated while operating from the habitual airfields and forcing the pilots to be more alert. The pilots, in fact, gain valuable training as they need to familiarize with new airspace regulations, new departure and arrival procedures and new reference points. As the Dutch pilots pointed out, only the basic layout of the area was the same they have at home, situated on the coast and composed in part by land and in part by sea from the surface to high altitudes.

The author would like to thank the Italian Air Force and in particular the Public Information Office for the opportunity to visit Gioia del Colle during the exercise Gioia Falcon, as well as the 36th Fighter Wing and its personnel for the hospitality and the help provided during the course of the two Media Days.

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

Belgian F-16 Damaged in Ground Incident At Leeuwarden AB. Pilot Successfully Ejected.

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One of the Belgian Vipers attending WIC at Leeuwarden AB, the Netherlands. (Image credit: Edwin Schimmel)

A Belgian Air Force F-16 hit a building shortly after start-up.

On Jul. 1, 2021, a BAF (Belgian Air Force) F-16 was involved in an incident at Leeuwarden Air Base, in the Netherlands. According to the details released by the Royal Netherlands Air Force, the F-16 accelerated on its own on start-up, as the crew chief was still working on the aircraft, jumped the chocks and crashed into a building opposite the flightline.

Both the Belgian pilot and the crew chief were injured and taken to hospital.

The incident occurred on the last day of Dutch F-16 operations at Leeuwarden: the base will host the RNlAF F-35 and for this reason the remaining RNlAF Vipers will be moved to Volkel. Many spotters were outside the base and some of them observed the mishap unfold. One of them spoke, who spoke to the Dutch media outlet NOS, said that the aircraft had just been given permission to take off around 09.15 hours. “We were standing at the spotting point near Marsum. Suddenly we heard a lot of noise. And at that moment I saw a tail of an F-16 rolling over the platform at a fairly high speed.”

According to Scramble, the mishap Viper is FA130 part of 2 Wing, based at Florennes. The aircraft was at Leeuwarden for the Weapon Instructor Course (WIC) currently underway. The WIC is a 6-months training course for the best and most experienced pilots to become a weapon instructor.

Concerns regarding the airworthiness and overall readiness of the Belgian fighters are regularly voiced, even though the BAF F-16s are frequently called to patrol NATO borders or perform QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) missions in the frame of joint BE-NL cooperation in safeguarding the common airspace.

In March 2021, the Belgian F-16 fleet was grounded following an engine mishap that occurred on Feb. 11, 2021, when an F-16 was forced to land shortly after takeoff from Florennes. The investigation revealed that the plane suffered a nozzle burn, “a phenomenon in which a break in material causes, due to the high temperature, a number of parts to melt which can come off,” according to Belgium’s Defense Aviation Safety Directorate. Flight operations were resumed on Mar. 19, 2021.

In September 2019 a Belgian two seater F-16B crashed in western France: both crew members managed to eject from the aircraft. Earlier, in 2018, a Belgian Air Force F-16 w destroasyed and another aircraft damaged when the M61A1 Vulcan 20mm cannon on board a third F-16 was accidentally fired on the ground by maintenance personnel at Florennes.

H/T to Jean-Paul Van De Walle, @Gerjon_ and Edwin Schimmel for providing additional details for this story.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Dutch Government Agrees To Sell 12 F-16s To Draken International For Use In Adversary Role In The U.S.

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Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s. (Image credit: Edwin Schimmel).

Draken International is about to expand its fleet of fighter jets already used for Combat Air Force/Contracted Air Support (CAF/CAS) program in the U.S with ex-RNlAF F-16s.

The Dutch Parliament was informed on June the 29th 2021 that an interdepartmental Defense Materiel Sales Committee, consisting of representatives of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Defence, has approved the sale of 12 F-16s to Draken International.

The American company is contracted by the American government to fly aggressor missions during exercises with the U.S. Air Force and Navy. The Dutch F-16s, including support equipment, retired by the Royal Netherlands Air Force, will join Draken’s already impressive mixed fleet MB-339s, MiG-21s, A-4K/Ns, L-39s, Mirage F-1Ms (one of those crashed at Nellis Air Force Base in May this year causing the death of its pilot) and Denel (formerly Atlas) Cheetahs (a South African major upgrade of the Mirage III with technology from the Israeli IAI Kfir, which is in turn derived from the Mirage 5).

The Falcons will come out of the F-16 End Life of Type (ELOT) program after the Dutch retire their F-16s starting in 2022. There is also an option to sell an additional 28 F-16s to Draken: these will be retired in batches from now till 2024. A formal contract for the sale will be signed in 2021 and the first deliveries could happen in 2022.

At this time of writing it is unknown if the deal with Draken International only includes single-seat F-16As or also dual-seaters F-16Bs. It will also be interesting to see how these F-16s will be modified and the type of paint scheme they will be given: we have already seen some really cool liveries among contract aggressors lately.

The role of aggressors/adversary units is to train fighter pilots in the most realistic way in extremely important. While some services, have their own units that replicate paint schemes, markings, insignas and, above all, the tactics, used in combat by their near peer adversaries, these are usually costly to operate and maintain: experienced aircrews, constant training and the proper assets are not cheap.  For this reason, both in the U.S. and abroad, even those air forces who have the assets, budget and experience to insource adversary support services increasingly rely on contracted aggressor services provided by private companies.

They call it CAS: contract air services. Companies like Draken International (as well as ATAC, TacAir and Top Aces) have been working with the U.S. military since more than a decade, committing their jets to replicate high-end real-world threats. And this is going to continue in the future.

As already explained in an article about the ex-Israeli Air Force F-16s purchased by the Canadian Top Aces company, the original Combat Air Force Contracted Air Support (CAF CAS) multi-award contract, was announced to cover 40,000 flight hours of adversary training at 12 different air bases and 10,000 flight hours is support of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) training at nine Army bases. After some reductions, the current program’s first phase features a little less than 9,000 flight sorties at six bases for the first year and an optional three year-extension for a total of over 26,000 flight sorties.

The six bases involved are Kingsley Field ANGB (TacAir), Luke AFB (ATAC), Holloman AFB (ATAC), Eglin AFB (ATAC), Seymour Johnson AFB (Draken International) and Kelly Field (Draken International), home of FTUs for F-15s, F-16s, F-22s and F-35s.

A big thank you to Edwin Schimmel for providing many details for this story!

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Risk Of Thunderstorms Prevented Dutch F-35s From Escorting U.S. B-52 During Allied Sky Mission

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A RNlAF F-35 on the ground at Leeuwarden. (Image credit: KLu).

On Aug. 28, 2020, six B-52H Stratofortress bombers took part in Allied Sky, a single-day mission that saw the strategic bombers overfly all 30 NATO nations.

Allied Sky was conducted by two teams: four B-52s with the 5th Bomb Wing, from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, deployed to RAF Fairford, UK, were tasked to cover European portion of the mission flying single-ship sorties; two B-52s, also belonging to the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, flew as a two-ship formation over Canada and the United States.

As reported in detail in this previous article, the one-day mission provided an opportunity for the B-52 to integrate with several NATO nations’ air force fighter aircraft and aerial refueling aircraft: RAF Typhoons and FAF Mirage 2000 over the Baltic off Lithuania; BAF F-16s over Belgium; RDAF F-16s and RNoAF F-35s over Scandinavia;  Polish Air Force F-16s and MiG-29s over Poland; Czech Air Force JAS 39 Gripen over Czech Republic; Romanian Air Force F-16s and MiG-21 Lancers over Romania; Bulgarian MiG-29s over Bulgaria; Croatian MiG-21s over Croatia; Hellenic Air Force F-16s over Greece; Italian Air Force Typhoons and F-35s over Italy; Portuguese F-16s over Portugal; Ukrainian Su-27s and MiG-29s over Ukraine.

According to the initial plans, also the F-35A Lightning IIs of the Royal Netherlands Air Force would have had to take part in Allied Sky escorting one of the B-52s. The KLu had announced the participation of the Dutch Lightning II jets on social networks but the mission was cancelled due to bad weather:

Indeed, as Sidney Plankman, a Dutch MoD spokesperson confirmed to the Algemeen Dagblad media outlet in an article published on Sept. 19, 2020, the intention was that the brand new F-35s from Leeuwarden Air Base would escort the B-52s. However, “there was a great risk of lightnings that day. Therefore we have decided not to do it.” Noteworthy, most probably due to more clement weather conditions, the Norwegian F-35s were able to escort the B-52 that flew up north to Scandinavia on Aug. 28.

On the day before the Algemeen Dagblad article was published, the Dutch MoD issued a news release to explain that the RNlAF F-35s are temporarily not flying with thunderstorms.

“Damaged pipes have been found on F-35A fighters. These are pipes from the On-Board Inert Gas Generation System (OBIGGS) in a fuel tank. All countries with F-35As were advised to avoid flights near storm cells and to protect the aircraft on the ground by a shelter or lightning rod,” says the Dutch MoD statement. “The OBIGGS ensures that the risk of explosion of fuel vapors in the event of, for example, a lightning strike is reduced to a minimum. The damaged pipes can make the fuel tanks less well protected. After damaged pipes were found on 4 (non-Dutch) aircraft, further inspections followed. More damaged pipes were found, including at Dutch F-35As. The cause of the problem is still under investigation.”

The public release also says that the problem with the OBIGGS and the current investigation will not affect the achievement of the Initial Operational Capability (IOC), that the Dutch fleet should declare by the end of 2021.

Two Dutch F-35s in flight. (Image credit: KLu).

A well known issue.

The F-35 has suffered from issues with the OBIGGS for several years. The deficiencies with the system that is supposed to pump nitrogen-enriched air into the fuel tanks to inert them were first discovered during tests in 2009. The testing revealed a design fault that could cause the F-35 to explode if struck by lightning. For this reason, the aircraft was restricted from flying within 25 miles of “known lightning conditions” until the issue with the OBIGGS was fixed. Those restrictions were lifted after the OBIGGS was redesigned in 2014 but new flaws in tubing used to circulate inert gas into fuel tanks to prevent explosions were found again. In June 2020, Bloomberg reported that the deliveries of the new F-35s had been halted because of the issue and then started again with the same 25 miles restriction as a safety precaution.

In August 2020, a picture showing Vermont ANG F-35A jets sitting on the ramp at Volk Field, Wisconsin, on Aug. 11, 2020, protected by mobile lightning rods during Northern Lightning Exercise made the news again.

F-35A Lightning IIs assigned to the 134th Fighter Squadron, Vermont Air National Guard, sit on the flight line after a day of flying training mission at Northern Lightning 2020, Volk Field, Wis., Aug. 11, 2020. Elements of the 158th Fighter Wing deployed to the annual exercise that gives the wing and aircraft training in deploying and conducting combat missions in a joint environment, including F-22 Raptors, F/A-18 Super Hornets and F-16 Fighting Falcons that flew with them in the nearly month-long exercise. (U.S. Air National Guard photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Campbell) (This image was created by blending a series of multiple exposures.)

The lightning rods in the image appear to be versions of LBA Technology, Inc‘s portable PLP-38-MOB model, which the Marine Corps also purchased to shield their F-35Bs from lightning strikes at deployed locations in 2018, wrote The War Zone.

But, while lightning rods can help protecting the F-35 Lightning II (a bit of ironic, isn’t it?) when it is on the ground, it looks like there is no other way to safeguard the precious aircraft than keeping it away from thunderstorms when it is airborne. And this can be a problem, both in planning and executing missions, especially those which need to be flown at all costs and in all-weather conditions (like QRA – Quick Reaction Alert).