RNLAF F-16AM at Davis Monthan AFB equipped with AIM-9X and Sniper pod.
After many years of F-16 engagement in Afghanistan and recently in the Middle East the RNLAF has come to a turning point. The year 2017 will therefore be mainly devoted to recovery and broadening the serviceability. To make a head start the RNLAF took part in the exercise CONUS in February. Frank Visser visited the RNLAF F-16 detachment at Davis Monthan AFB and Nellis AFB.
At the end of January six F-16s based at Volkel air base departed for the USA to work on their skills after a four-year absence. Accompanied by a KDC-10 of the RNLAF these aircraft landed at Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona to start the first part of CONUS (Continental United States) 2017, which would last just over four weeks. To achieve a maximum result from the exercise another four F-16 aircraft were added from nearby Tucson IAP. For many years the Dutch F-16 training takes place with 148th FS and for this they have ten Dutch F-16s at their disposal. That Davis Monthan AFB was chosen was well considered. Here the RNLAF could namely exploit the TFTC (Total Force Training Center). This TFTC is part of the Arizona ANG and has its own facilities at Davis Monthan AFB, also known as “Snow Bird”, derived from the birds that fly to the south of the USA to hibernate. Every year during the winter months several ANG units from the northern states come here to practise unimpeded by bad weather conditions. Lt Col Reinhold is the commanding officer of TFTC and as a former 148th FS F-16 instructor pilot he has a strong relationship with the Dutch. “Normally we provide the equipment for each ANG detachment. As we couldn't promise the supply of all the equipment the RNLAF moved in a lot of their own equipment. We had to work hard to make it happen,” said Lt Col Reinhold.
RNLAF F-16AMs from 148FS at Tucson IAP.
RNLAF F-16AM from 148FS taxing at Tucson IAP.
At Davis Monthan AFB the detachment consisted of a fixed staff of 20 while another 130 people rotated during the four weeks. Thus a maximum number of pilots and ground crew could be trained. Each day there were three sorties of four aircraft. These missions were divided in operational flights as well as training flights that were part of the MQT (Mission Qualification Training) program. In addition two-ship and four-ship flight leads were trained and two pilot were present for their FWIT (Fighter Weapons Instructor Training) work-up course. It was also the first time the RNLAF F-16 pilots practised with the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile and the AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod. Both systems have great advantages in air-to-air combat missions over previous systems: the AIM-9L/M en AN/AAQ-28 Litening AT Block 2 pod. Besides joint training with the two RNLAF
F-35s of Edwards AFB was a new and great experience in two out of the four weeks of CONUS. During the air-to-air combat training the Dutch F-16s simulated aircraft such as the Su-27, Su-30 and Su-35. Three ranges nearby could be used for air-to-ground missions with both air and ground threats. Over these ranges the RNLAF F-16s cooperated with Dutch fighter controllers of AOCS Nieuw Milligen and GBU-12 inert bombs. Being able to train full spectrum again is required since the focus during the recent deployments to Afghanistan the Middle East have led to degradation in training against air threat and ground threat. Both these scenarios can be described as permissive environments, but other missions for the RNLAF F-16 can also be in a contested environment. “Here at Davis Monthan we can train a wide range of missions and apply Air Power.” said Lt Col Bok. He went on to say that the missions with the F-35s have revealed that we need this aircraft. “You increase the capacity of the F-16 by flying joint missions with the F-35. Practising with the F-35 has been of additional value. The valid lessons we have learnt and the knowledge gathered will be secured.” The first part of CONUS was also a great preparation for the second part: participating in the exercise Red Flag 17-02.
Red Flag 17-02
For the second part of CONUS they used the same 10 F-16AMs, which were flown from Davis Monthan AFB and Tucson IAP to Nellis AFB just before the start of the second Red Flag of 201
RNLAF F-16AM returning from a Red Flag mission.
Equipment and ground personnel were transported by road. The entire detachment was made up of 140 staff among them 60 USAF ground crew employed by the Arizona ANG at Tucson IAP. An extra challenge, but despite the different modes of operation they were all very enthusiastic about the smooth cooperation. The detco for this Red Flag and already his third was Lt Col Haarsma.
RNLAF pilot just before turning on his engine.
“Participating in Red Flag is extremely important for us as we can practice a large-scale conflict, which could not be carried out at home. Here we are part of a balanced programme of carrying out complex missions of constantly changing scenarios. Everything has been well arranged for you but you definitely will have to roll up your sleeves,” added Lt Col Haarsma. ”Such an exercise is for everybody and especially young pilots very exciting.” More than half of the fighter pilots had never taken part in a Red Flag exercise. Though the programme for both weeks looked very similar, the scenarios in week two were a lot more complex.
Last check before take-off.
The mission is about to start.
During the first day of the week Red Air attacked and Blue air had to defend. The second day it was Blue Air's assignment to hit back with an integrated Air Defence under severe air threat. The following two days further elimination of ground targets was carried out under decreasing air threat, while using Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) and strike missions. The theme of the last day of the week was Combat Search and Rescue. Will this have been the last RNLAF F-16 participation in Red Flag because of the forthcoming introduction of the F-35? Probably not, as the
F-16 will remain an important platform for the RNLAF in the years to come. A combined employment of the F-35 and the F-16 will be the focal point in the near future, for instance a combined employment of four aircraft each. CONUS 2017 has clearly shown that a combined training has provided a lot of experience that could not be gained otherwise. With the conclusion of Red Flag 17-2 CONUS 2017 also came to an end. During six weeks the RNLAF has been able to train its pilots and ground crew intensively. Training which is very relevant and necessary after years of deployments abroad. Experience from CONUS and Red Flag have already proved their value during the Frisian Flag exercise organized by the RNLAF at Leeuwarden Airbase, which took place in the last two weeks of March.