Dutch F-35s Deploy to Poland
Report and photos by Yissachar Ruas
April 6, 2023
The Royal Netherlands Air Force, recently deployed its F-35A aircraft to Poland for the first time.
The F-35s were taking part in NATO’s Air Policing mission. With the ongoing conflict in the Ukraine and tensions mounting in Poland and the Baltic States, NATO’s mission has only been getting more complex.
While the USAF’s 90th Squadron, with their one of a kind F-22s rotated out of NATO’s Eastern Flank this February, the 5th Generation capabilities have been enhanced with the incoming rotation of the RNLAF F-35 contingent. This is not the first time the F-35 has operated under NATO’s umbrella. The F-35 5th gen aircraft conducting Air Policing within the NATO framework are a mainstay it would seem. With Italy the US and now the Netherlands all deploying their most advanced aircraft to the mission, conveying its importance in the eyes of the Alliance Nation’s leadership.
Deploying 150 personnel and 8 aircraft to Polish Air Force’s Malbork Air Base, the Dutch Air Force brought its brand new F-35A “Lightning II” aircraft outside of the Netherlands operationally, to what is likely one of, if not, the most sensitive location on NATO’s borders.
The deployment to Malbork was a significant one for the Royal Netherlands Air Force (Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu) this is a considerable step showing that the F-35 is fully integrated into Operations in NATO and that the Alliance is past the learning curve regarding its capabilities and the effectiveness it brings to the table.
The KLU earmarked 4 aircraft for constant alert status while an additional 4 trained with the Polish Air Force and other allies in the region and were available to bolster NATO security on its Eastern Flank immediately if necessary.
Malbork Air Base is home to Poland’s Russian made Mig-29 aircraft. These aircraft have played a key role in Poland’s defense in the past, and several of them are now being prepared for delivery to the Ukraine.
These aircraft will replace Ukrainian losses and add to the ongoing effort of providing German Leopard Tanks and American Stryker APCs to the battlefield.
NATO is in charge of protecting its member nations airspace, it does this via its Command Centers known as “CAOC”. The diversity of Aircraft that are operated by each individual nation may vary, whether ex Eastern Bloc MiG-29 or the brand new American F-35, all types of Fighters operating within the NATO fold are able to work seamlessly with the Operations center when called to task.
Cooperation is the key during these missions, an intercept alert call can come in frequently both in North Poland as well as Baltic controlled airspace. This is fairly common when Russian aircraft fail to notify Air Traffic Control when flying to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. NATO Aircraft on duty must be able to scramble and perform an identification and interception of the rogue aircraft.
The Detachment has performed 4 operational intercepts which means they were called upon to intercept, identify and escort Russian aircraft in 4 separate instances.
The current deployment concluded last week and were augmented by the French Air Force which is deployed to the Baltic with their Rafale aircraft as well. Additionally, Poland has stationed 8 F-16s alongside the French aircraft in Siaulai, Lithuania.
As tensions may hit a peak with Finland and Sweden slated to join NATO, 5th gen capabilities are a key part in the Alliance’s arsenal.