In the latest, April, issue of AFM, Kees van der Mark reports from Tucson International Airport in Arizona, the home of Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 pilot training.
One of three F-16 squadrons within the Arizona Air National Guard’s (ANG’s) 162nd Wing at Tucson is dedicated to training Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-16 pilots. The 148th Fighter Squadron (FS) ‘Kickin’ Ass’ has ten RNLAF-owned F-16s in Mid-Life Update (MLU) configuration assigned, comprising five F-16AMs and five F-16BMs. The Netherlands Detachment Tucson Arizona (NDTA) has a modest personnel strength of 12 Dutchmen.
The NDTA’s commanding officer since August 2016 is Lt Col Joost ‘Niki’ Luijsterburg, an experienced fighter pilot with close to 4,000 flying hours in F-16s, including F-16C Block 40s during an exchange tour with the 347th Fighter Wing (FW) at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, in 1998-2000. He is one of five Dutch instructor pilots (IPs) within the 148th, working alongside three American IPs. Other NDTA personnel include a warrant officer, simulator instructor, two mission planners, a logistic officer and two maintenance officers. Servicing and maintenance of the Dutch jets is in the hands of Arizona ANG personnel.
The RNLAF will make the transition from the F-16 to the F-35A in the next five years. Inevitably, this has consequences for the RNLAF presence at Tucson as well. Delivery of the first two F-35As to Leeuwarden Air Base, home of 322 Tactical Training, Evaluation and Standardisation Squadron (TACTESS), is scheduled for late next year. The type should reach initial operational capability (IOC) within the RNLAF by the end of 2021, and full operational capability (FOC) by 2024. Current plans call for a fleet of 37 F-35As, with the final three arriving in the Netherlands in 2023. The last F-16s will be withdrawn from service by 2025.