2005 Dutch F-16 fighters in Lithuania
Updated: Feb 3, 2018
Frank Visser visited the Royal Netherlands Air Force detachment in Lithuania where they carried out air-policing missions for NATO.
Since July 1 2004 fighter planes of NATO-countries have been stationed at Siauliai airbase in Lithuania. From here the so-called air-policing missions are flown to protect the air space of the Baltic countries against intruders. The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) committed itself then to take part and therefore four F-16AM were stationed in Lithuania from April 1, 2005 to June 30, 2005.
Four of these so called clam-shelters were set up by the English detachment for the Tornado F-3 and left behind as a gift to the Lithuanians.
Reason for the deployment
Through the entry of a number of new countries to the NATO in April 2004 gaps would occur in NATO’s air defence. Lacking the necessary air power (obsolete or no fighter planes at all) Slovenia and the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia could not take on the air defence task themselves. A solution for Slovenia was quickly found: American F-16 from nearby Aviano airbase in Northern Italy were to take on the surveillance of the Slovene air space. However, for the Baltic countries a different solution had to be found. A quick purchase of fighter planes was no option for them partly due to the fact that at an earlier stage NATO had dissuaded them from such a buy.
As the financial aspects would not weigh against military objectives. After all NATO ample fighter capacity at its disposal. Besides NATO had already endorsed responsibility for policing the air space of these countries before their entry. Early 2004 a NATO team was sent to Lithuania to inspect the military airfields of Kaunas and Siauliai. Siauliai airbase was preferred to Kaunas as it had a more extensive infrastructure. The air-policing task for the Baltic countries was a fact from April 1 2004 the first NATO fighter planes flew their missions above the Baltic States. The air-policing duty will remain an interim solution but will give NATO time to consider a better and more structural solution.
The Dutch detachment
Each participating country then bound itself to put four aircraft at NATO’s disposal for the air-policing task. The Dutch detachment consisted of four F-16AM with the MLU (Midlife Update) M2 configuration and approximately 50 staff members for the greater part originating from Leeuwarden airbase. On March 29 2005 the RNLAF detachment left in order to replace the Norwegian Air Force, becoming the fifth NATO country to take its turn. Belgium, Denmark and Norway carried out their task with the F-16 MLU and the United Kingdom with the Tornado F3. Just as their predecessors the Dutch operated from a specially equipped area on the south-east side of the airfield, built by the British. During the Cold War it housed a MiG-23 “Flogger” regiment of the Russian Air Force. The guarding of the area and the four F-16 was carried out by Lithuanian conscripts. According to the second detco (detachment commander), major Arnoud ’Ditch’ Stallman of 323 Squadron the Dutch detachment could be limited to a minimum of staff by contracting the surveillance out. He went on to say, that the necessity arose Leeuwarden airbase still has to fulfil a lot of obligations in the second half of 2005.
Coinciding with the air-policing missions F-16 fighters from Leeuwarden took part in the exercises of Maple Flag in Canada and Noble Javelin at the Spanish airbase of Gando on the Canary Islands, from which the NATO Response Force was practising. In the summer a busy programme will have to be carried out as well. In connection with the participation of Dutch F-16s in the International Stabilisation Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan personnel of Leeuwarden airbase will replace the present detachment of Volkel airbase. Besides the base will host and carry out the exercise Frisian Flag from September 26 2005.
In order to carry our the air-policing task over the Baltic countries well two F-16s together with a staff of ten were constantly on a 24-hour Quick Reaction Alert (QRA). The QRA of the participating member countries fell inside the authority of the Baltic QRA, which is part of the Combined Air Operations Centre 2 (CAOC) in Kalkar and CAOC 4 in Messtetten Germany. In case of an actual alarm the Baltic QRA would be warned by the Air Space Unit (ACU) Klondyke in Southern Lithuania. They would have the aircraft scrambled and would guide them in the air to a possible unknown object.
The Dutch F-16s were only armed with two AIM-9M Sidewinder missiles for the QRA task. One of the pilots told me that flying in such a “bare” configuration was really great, as it improved the maneuverability of the plane enormously. This QRA configuration is rather uncommon as QRA planes in The Netherlands are always equipped with two AIM-120B AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) missiles and a fueltank under each wing. One of the reasons to fly such a light configuration was the bad condition of the runway. To minimize possible FOD (Foreign Object Damage) damage during take-off and landing they opted for flying as light as possible. Two QRA teams took 24-hour turns. The QRA task could be distinguished into three different scrambles. At each scramble pilots and personnel were briefed about the type of scramble. An A (Alpha) –scramble meant an actual threat of an unidentified aircraft spotted by traffic control in Klondyke. At a T (Training) -scramble the planes took off to fly their training mission. Finally the QRA crew could be faced with an S (Simulated) -scramble.
The scramble was executed up to the runway in order to return from there to the Reaction Force (RF) shelters. Four of these so called clam-shelters were set up by the English detachment for the Tornado F-3 and left behind as a gift to the Lithuanians.
Thus the aircraft could be sheltered and possible repairs could be carried out in a dry spot. Since the runway of Siauliai was of such a bad quality, the Dutch detachment incurred a lot of FOD right from the start of their deployment. ”Now that the essential repairs have been carried out I intend to fly at least once every weekday,” said major Maurice “Skunk” Schonk of 323 Squadron, who had replaced major Arnoud “Ditch” Stallman as third and last detco on 3 June 2005. During the runway repairs two so-called A-scrambles were flown. One on April 20, which turned out to be false alarm and a second on May 20.
The latter was very serious: a Russian Tu-22 “Backfire” bomber flew from the Baltic Sea in eastern direction and approached the air-policing area. As the aircraft had no squawk code and did nor react to calls, Klondyke traffic control sent out an A-scramble. Within a few minutes the QRA was airborne with two F-16s. They intercepted the Tu-22 which had already entered the air-policing zone. The Tu-22 came from a base in the enclave of Kaliningrad, where the Russian Air Force has some airbases in use. Since the Tu-22 remained flying within the specially reserved corridor no violation of the Baltic air space took place. Thus the F-16s escorted the Tu-22 at a distance till it entered Russian air space and then returned to Siauliai airbase after 50 minutes. Putting the QRA’s reaction speed to the test could well have been the aim of the Russians.
From July 1 the Dutch detachment will be replaced by German F-4F ICE-II of Jagdgeschwader 71 based at Wittmundhafen. Then American F-16s of 52 FW from Spangdalem will take over followed by Polish Mig-29s of 1. Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego (Tactical Aviation Squadron) based at Mińsk Mazowiecki. It likely that other NATO countries will carry out the Baltic QRA task before a structural solution is found.