A detachment of F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Dutch Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) is conducting combat training exercises in conjunction with Marine Corps Air Station Yuma based squadrons over Barry M. Goldwater Range West, Feb. 3 – 23.
The Dutch have journeyed across the Atlantic and most of the continental United States to utilize the ranges and airspace of MCAS Yuma. The chance to use the vast expanse of Barry M. Goldwater Range is a unique opportunity for the Dutch, as the Netherlands is a small but highly populated nation, with limited space for aviation combat operations.
“We are conducting as many training operations as possible, night flying especially, because there are many restrictions on flying at night back home,” said 1st Lt. Maurits Kraak, the public affairs officer for Volkel Airbase, Netherlands.
This detachment of the RNLAF composes a cross-section of the entire Dutch air force, in that personnel and equipment from all four of the Netherlands’ F-16 squadrons and both airbases have come together for this training evolution.
With such a large proportion of their force represented here, the opportunity is not lost on American and Dutch forces to study and integrate each others’ tactics, techniques and procedures.
“It is good to see if the manuals and tactics we are employing are still valid as we try to integrate more,” said Maj. Guido Schols, the director of operations for the 323rd Squadron out of Leeuwarden Airbase, Netherlands.
“The cooperation in this training is multinational as much as possible because that is how we have been operating in Afghanistan and Libya,” added Kraak. “We have been cooperating for 30 years with the U.S. Every opportunity we get to train with other nations, we take it, because in a real war scenario, we will be cooperating with other countries as well, especially the U.S.”
The operations the Dutch are conducting include surface-to-air tactics missions, close air support and air-to-air combat missions. They are also participating in Exercise Scorpion Fire alongside Marines.
These exercises hold a special significance for the Dutch, because during the Kosovo War the Dutch air force pioneered the swing role concept for fighter-bomber aircraft. This tactic involves a strike aircraft engaging targets in an air-to-air or air-to-ground role as the mission demands and being able to switch between the two on a moment’s notice.
Not only in combat procedures, but in every aspect of military aviation operations both nations benefit from this multinational cooperative exercise.
“We have some hazardous material that is new to MCAS Yuma so we can train the fire crews here on something they haven’t seen before,” stated Schols. “We can see if each of us have different ideas about how to handle it, and we can take that back with us.”
“Working with them provides us the ability to train in a coalition environment,” added Master Sgt. Dan Pappas, the MCAS Yuma air traffic control staff non-commissioned officer-in-charge and Cincinnati native. “They’re just like any other aircraft. The accent might be different, and they might not understand all the lingo we use, but English is the language for air traffic control, and it’s good practice to guide them through. Whenever we deploy, we work with other nations so how can we fight that way if we don’t train that way?”
All in all, spirits are running high among the Dutch as they experience what America has to offer.
“Everybody is excited to be here,” said Schols. “The weather is better here. It was minus five Celsius at home when we took off. Being away from home, people bond more than they do back at the squadron. We are having a great time, and we are getting good support from America. We do not have any complaints. Everything’s running smoothly, and we really appreciate it”
“We are very happy to be here and to coordinate with multiple forces, Air Force and Marine Corps,” added Kraak. “When you need each other in real combat situations, it’s beneficial to already be acquainted with the way you work. Also, everyone enjoys going into all the big towns and stores and sightseeing here.”
Before beginning their training at MCAS Yuma, the RNLAF detachment participated in two weeks of training at Red Flag 13-2 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
The Dutch are no strangers to the desert southwest; a decent portion of their initial pilot training takes place at a permanent detachment they hold at Tucson International Airport, Ariz. Additionally, every two years the Dutch air force aims to detach to America to train with U.S. Forces.
This year, the RNLAF is celebrating its rich history and many contributions to worldwide aviation during its 100th birthday of military aviation in the Netherlands.