Military Aviation

End of an era as Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 Viper fighter jets in the US fly for the last time

Air National Guard Airmen and Royal Netherlands Air Force personnel celebrated the end of an era as the RNLAF landed their last F-16 at Morris Air National Guard Base on Jul. 29, 2022 culminating a 32-year international training relationship.

US and Dutch dignitaries and Air National Guard Airmen and Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) personnel celebrated the end of an era as the RNLAF landed their last F-16 at Morris Air National Guard Base on Jul. 29, 2022 culminating a 32-year international training relationship.

“Arizona has developed an ever-lasting relationship with the Netherlands that will continue to strengthen interoperability between the United States and foreign partner nations across the globe,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Butler, 162nd Wing commander, to Maj. Angela Walz, 162nd Wing for the article Dutch Wrap up 32 Years of Flying with Tucson Air Guard. “This has been a partnership that extends beyond any other witnessed in National Guard history.”

The Dutch were the first in a long line of foreign partners to train at Morris ANG Base, flying an average of 2,000 hours per year in the F-16 and graduating four student pilots every nine months as part of the 148th Fighter Squadron.

“I was a student in the 148th Fighter Squadron in 1991,” said Lt. Col. Joost Luijsterburg, RNLAF detachment commander. “That was 31 years ago, and now I’m going to close this unit. … It is the end of an era.”

The RNLAF is transitioning from the F-16 to the F-35. Luijsterburg has already assumed command of the Dutch F-35 detachment at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, and has been acting as dual commander of both detachments.

According to F-16.net, the RNLAF purchased a total of 213 F-16A/B aircraft. The Netherlands were one of the four initial European NATO customers for the F-16, and one of 5 countries to build the F-16 locally. Force reductions saw the fleet reduced to 68 aircraft, all of them upgraded to MLU standard. Some surplus aircraft have been sold to Jordan and Chile.

As reported by Janes, the RNLAF is to procure at least 46 F-35As (of which 37 are on order) to replace its fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcons.

The service declared initial operating capability (IOC) for the F-35A in late December 2021. For the RNLAF, IOC means four aircraft are available for expeditionary taskings for a period of three to four months. The service is expected to declare full operating capability for the type in 2024.

The RNLAF announced on Jan. 12 that, with the last of 24 F-35As now delivered to 322 Squadron at Leeuwarden Air Base, the first aircraft for 313 Squadron have now begun arriving at Volkel Air Base also.

In October 2019 the Dutch Ministry of Defence announced it would stand up a third operating squadron for the F-35A, although it did not give its planned location.

The international training relationship between the Tucson Guard and the Dutch is a prime example of effective diplomacy that can occur at the state level.

There is also a Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program that was established more than 25 years ago. It now includes 85 National Guard partnerships with 93 nations.

“The National Guard has a vested interest in growing its partnerships with foreign countries, and we do that better than anyone else, right here in Tucson, Arizona,” said Butler. “Our international training mission provides expertly trained coalition war-fighting partners for the United States and our NATO allies — and that is both necessary and reassuring in today’s environment.”

Photo credit: Dutch Ministry of Defence and Maj. Angela Walz / U.S. Air Force

Lt. Col. Joost Luijsterburg, the Royal Netherlands Air Force detachment commander, is sprayed with water after completing his final flight in an F-16 at the Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Ariz., on Jul. 29, 2022. Luijsterburg has already assumed command of the Dutch F-35 detachment at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, and has been acting as dual commander of both detachments.
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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