The Netherlands armed forces face significant cuts, including the retirement of Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters, P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and Fokker F-27 transports, but will gain new helicopters and a theatre missile defence capability. The changes stem from a memorandum published on 25 January by the Dutch Ministry of Defence.

The memorandum is a prelude to a wider reappraisal of defence strategy likely to be published by early 2000. The general shift of policy will be from defence of the country to peacekeeping or enforcement operations.

The report calls for the disbandment of the reconnaissance-dedicated 306 Squadron equipped with F-16s at Volkel. This will reduce the F-16 force to six squadrons at three bases. Each squadron will be equipped with new reconnaissance pods shortly after 2000.

Although the government supports industrial co-operation in the US-led Joint Strike Fighter combat aircraft project, the number of aircraft under consideration could be fewer than the 140 originally planned. A decision on participating in the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the project will be made in 2000 - The Netherlands is a "limited co-operative partner" with Denmark and Norway.

Among the casualties will be an acquisition programme for anti-radiation missiles. Procurement has been delayed by a year and money allocated to the program-me will be in the range of Dfl25-100 million ($15.6-62 million) instead of the Dfl100-250million originally envisaged.

The naval air service is to lose three of its 13 P-3s. The Capability Upgrade Programme destined for all 13 aircraft has been cut to seven.The detachment in the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean will get a third P-3, but 336 Squadron will be disbanded and its two Fokker F-27MPA maritime surveillance aircraft retired.

The army's MBB105 and Aerospatiale Alouette 3 helicopters will be replaced by fewer machines of an undetermined type.

The Netherlands' commitment to theatre missile defence (TMD)will be strengthened, says the report. The Dutch air force's Raytheon Patriot surface-to-air missiles will get upgraded PAC-3 missiles giving them improved capability against ballistic missiles.

A study is under way to determine if the navy's four LCF air defence and command frigates under development will be equipped for TMD. A helicopter- carrying amphibious support ship is also to be built.

One new acquisition project announced in October that remains on course is the acquisition of unmanned air vehicles for long duration reconnaissance missions to supplement manned assets.

Source: Flight International