Following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the Royal Netherlands Air Force has deployed two F-35As that initially planned to move to Bulgaria in March-April, along with two F-16s (including the one that shot down a MiG-29 in 1999).
On Feb. 24, 2022, two RNLAF F-35A Lightning II aircraft departed from Leeuwarden Air Base in the Netherlands to reinforce NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe. The Dutch Ministry of Defence had previously announced the plan to deploy two of its 5th generation jets to Bulgaria between March and April, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine changed the initial plan.
It’s not clear whether the F-35s are being deployed to Graf Ignatievo or not: the official statement of the MOD says they have been moved “in the vicinity of Poland”. Anyway, what’s certain is that on their way to the destination, the F-35s flew over Poland and refueled from a RNLAF A330 MRTT north of Gniezno, Poland, around 13.30LT today, where photographer Tomek Urbański spotted them.
The deployment marks the first time that the Ministry of Defense has officially deployed their most advanced aircraft.
Earlier today, the U.S. Air Force announced six F-35As were also being deployed in Romania, Estonia and Lithuania.
Along with the F-35As caught on camera, the Dutch have also deployed to the Eastern Europe two F-16AM Fighting Falcons. The F-16s will complement the F-35s as part of a contingent of eight aircraft that can be deployed at any given time to protect NATO airspace over Eastern Europe. The Dutch Vipers launched today from Volkel AB. A video posted by the Dutch MOD shows the aircraft taxiing out of the HAS (Hardened Shelters) and take off with a load of Live AIM-120B AMRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder Air-to-Air Missiles, SNIPER ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod) and the AN/ALQ-131 ECM pod.
Twee F-16’s van @vlbvolkel zijn vanmiddag ingezet voor de bescherming van NAVO-luchtruim boven Oost-Europa. Zij losten twee F-35’s af die eerder vandaag zijn ingezet.
— Ministerie van Defensie (@Defensie) February 24, 2022
Noteworthy, one of the aircraft deploying to support NATO mission, is the airframe 86-0063/J-063 an F-16AM that on Mar. 24, 1999, on the opening day of Operation Allied Force, shot down a Serbian MiG-29 Fulcrum with an AIM-120A AMRAAM. A silhouette of a Fulcrum was painted just below the canopy rail of the aircraft piloted by Maj. Peter Tankink who scored the first post-WWII kill for the RNLAF.