Stewart Penney/LONDON


Opposition is building in the Netherlands Parliament over plans in the country's Defence White Paper 2000 to disband a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) Lockheed Martin F-16 squadron and cut the number of fighter units to five.

A parliamentary debate is set to take place in February.

Although equipment cuts are planned, the RNLAF is to receive 14-16 new light utility helicopters to replace four Aerospatiale Alouette IIIs and 27 MBB Bo105s from 2003. Longbow radars are to be acquired from 2003 for 30 Boeing AH-64D Apache helicopters now entering service. No decision has been made on the ratio of radars to airframes.

The White Paper, released on 29 November, builds on the January's Framework Memorandum, which outlined cuts to all three armed forces. Use of theF-16 force during NATO operations in Bosnia and Kosovo has created a ground swell against cuts in the fighter force.

The White Paper seeks to create more readily deployable forces better-suited to peacekeeping operations. The Netherlands aims to participate in up to four peacekeeping operations with battalion-sized or equivalent units. Three units of any one kind should be available at all times with one available for or on deployment, one training for deployment and one recuperating.

The number of deployable personnel is to increase by 2,100, or 900 more than outlined in January. Most of the additional troops will be in the army, but 300 will join the RNLAF's Tactical Helicopter Group (THG) logistics support units to improve sustainability in the field and the deployability of the Netherlands' Airmobile Brigade. THG will be fully deployable by 2003 and all its machines - Boeing CH-47D Chinooks and Eurocopter Cougars - will get self-protection equipment from 2004.

Assuming parliament does not overturn the plan, disbandment of 306 Squadron in early 2001 will see the distribution of its reconnaissance-capable aircraft among other squadrons, while 18 F-16s will be offered for sale. The White Paper also demands the "drawing up of a basic document on the replacement of F-16s" by February.

The Royal Netherlands Navy will dispose of three Lockheed Martin P-3C Orions in 2001-6, and will deploy three aircraft to the Netherlands Antilles to replace two RNLAF Fokker F-27Ms which are to be disposed of in the middle of next year.

Source: Flight International