During the month of February ten Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-16AMs of Volkel Airbase took part in the Arctic Star 2006 deployment in the north of Sweden. Never before had the RNLAF operated from this non-NATO country for such a long period. Frank Visser visited the second Dutch detachment at Vidsel
Second Detachment commander was Major Marcel van Egmond.
Current operations, such as for instance the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) F-16 detachment in Afghanistan, had added to the necessity to intensively train high-quality scenarios at night.
As soon as darkness sets in the flying operations started.
Since the possibilities in the Netherlands were rather limited, an alternative solution had to be found. An additional advantage would be the export of noise nuisance by reducing the number of night sorties at home.
After a preliminary investigation the North of Sweden appeared to be the best option. Due to varying weather conditions during this time of the year Bodø Airbase in Norway and Luleå-Kallax in Sweden were not considered.
However Vidsel, a test base of the Swedish Air Force, situated only 80 kilometres west of Luleå, was selected because of the stable weather conditions and the nearby extensive training area. The F-16 detachment consisted of 110 personnel and equipment and was stationed early February at Vidsel. The FMV (Swedish Defence Material Administration) uses this base as a Test & Evaluation Centre. Within 40 kilometres lies one of the many extensive test ranges of 70 by 35 kilometres. Tests are carried out here by the FMV on missiles with the aid of drones launched from Vidsel Airbase. But also UAVs and UCAVs regularly depart from Vidsel to do their test runs. The total area of ranges compares with the size of Denmark. As Vidsel is situated just below the polar circle, the base was also used to test the Eurofighter under extremely cold conditions.
Necessary repair on the F-16s was done in a large hangar at Vidsel.
The RNLAF F-16s flew several Close Air Support (CAS) missions as are flown in Afghanistan. For this reason a Forward Air Control (FAC) team of the Royal Netherlands Army was added to the detachment. They illuminate a target with a laser which is then destroyed with laser-guided GBU12 bombs. In addition also other weapon systems such as unguided Mk82 and Mk84 bombs were tested.
Together with the Swedish Air Force a large number of Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) missions were flown: opponents were the Saab JAS39A Gripens of Fighter Attack Reconnaissance Squadron 21 from nearby Luleå-Kallax Airbase. Besides The Swedish Air Force supplied a Hkp10 helicopter for SAR operations and they provided traffic and air combat control. Though at the very beginning the co-operation did not work out that smoothly, it improved immensely during the detachment, so that the number of missions could be increased. Thus 140 missions alone were flown in the last two weeks.
The RNLAF is considering to repeat this deployment possibly in the autumn of 2006. This could be again at Vidsel Airbase, though Canada and other countries are also considered.