Dutch F-35s take over QRA duties from F-16s

Koninklijke Luchtmacht

The skies above Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg are now under the watchful eye of two Dutch F-35s as they took over Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duties from their F-16 counterparts on March 29, 2024.

The QRA involves two fighter aircraft being permanently on standby, ready to scramble within minutes to intercept any unidentified aircraft. The Dutch F-16 fighter aircraft have been on QRA duties since 1981. The Netherlands and Belgium alternate responsibility for these tasks every few months, with Belgium taking over again on May 9, 2024.

The Dutch F-35s have now taken on full responsibility for QRA, which marks a significant step in the gradual retirement of the F-16s. The Koninklijke Luchtmacht is currently phasing out its fleet of F-16A fighters and replacing them with 52 F-35A stealth fighters. On March 28, 2024, a final “scramble” with the F-16s was conducted at Volkel Air Base.

However, for the pilots, the transition to using only F-35s brings minimal change in operational readiness.

“The conditions remain the same,” Major Nick, the squadron’s deputy chief of operations, commented. “The F-35 is, above all, a more modern platform, which makes things easier. The aircraft can fly longer and has better sensors. The F-35 sends the right signal to the enemy.”

The Air Operations Control Station in Nieuw Milligen, Netherlands, coordinates QRA activities and promptly alerts the aircraft to intercept any non-responsive or unidentified intruders. F-35s are stationed at Leeuwarden and Volkel air bases in the Netherlands.

As for Belgium, the Control and Reporting Center (CRC) in Beauvechain oversees QRA operations, while the Belgian fighters are based at Kleine-Brogel and Florennes.

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