March 29, 2024

End of an era: Dutch F-16s complete final QRA mission, hand over to F-35s


The last F-16 QRA
One of two launches of an RNLAF F-16 for the final QRA on 28 March 2024 (Image credit: Dutch Ministry of Defence)

Royal Air Force F-16 fighter jets flew their final rapid reaction alert mission after 43 years of alert duty.

On 29 March 2024, the Royal Netherlands Air Force's F-16 jets will fly their last QRA mission, concluding an era that began in 1981. Starting this morning, the air defence of the Belgian, Dutch and Luxembourg (BENELUX) airspace will be taken over by the Netherlands' new fifth-generation F-35A aircraft.

The RNLAF and BAF (Belgian Air Force) will share air security over the Benelux airspace on an alternating basis for several months, with the BAF taking over responsibility on 9 May and between now and then the RNLAF will carry out QRA missions with F-35As based at Leeuwarden and Volkel airbases.

The end of the patrol mission is another step towards the retirement of the Dutch Vipers (as all F-16 variants are commonly referred to in the fighter pilot community), a milestone commemorated on March 28 with the final T-scramble (a training “Tango” scramble) conducted by the QRA cell at Volkel Air Base to intercept two Dutch F-16s.

Taking over the QRA mission for the last time with the F-16, another milestone in the transition to the F35. It has been a privilege and an honor. 🫡

Bonzo's sons!

— Cdt 312 Squadron (@312Cdt) March 29, 2024

From now on, very little will change for the pilots, as they will only be using F-35s. They must be as prepared as ever. “The conditions remain the same,” said the squadron's Deputy Chief of Operations, Major General Nick, in an official statement. “The F-35 is above all a modern platform, which makes things easier. The aircraft can fly longer and has better sensors. The F-35 sends the right signals to the enemy.”

While it is not a “pure” interceptor, many NATO countries already provide QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) with the F-35, and the Italian and Norwegian air forces were among the first to deploy fifth-generation aircraft in air patrol roles under NATO command.

The final QRA of an RNLAF F-16. (Image courtesy of the Dutch Ministry of Defence)

The retirement of RNLAF F-16s is underway, with the Netherlands taking the lead with the EFTC European F-16 Training Centre at Baza 86 Aeliana Fetesti, Romania, which has provided between 12 and 18 F-16s (which remain the property of the Dutch government) for this purpose.

Announced in August 2023 by Lockheed Martin and the governments of Romania and the Netherlands, the EFTC will enhance mission readiness through a comprehensive F-16 training solution for Romanian and Ukrainian pilots, as well as F-16 operators in the rest of the world.

David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the founder and editor of The Aviationist, one of the world's best-known and most read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has contributed articles to the world's leading magazines, including Air Forces Monthly and Combat Aircraft, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the US, Europe, Australia and Syria and flown several fighter jets with various air forces. He is a former lieutenant in the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and has a degree in computer engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more.


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