End of An Era: Dutch F-16s Complete Their Last QRA Mission, Hand Over Task To F-35

Last F-16 QRA
One of the two RNLAF F-16 launches for the last QRA on Mar. 28, 2024 (Image credit: Dutch MOD)

The RNLAF F-16s have carried out their last Quick Reaction Alert duty after 43 years of alert duty.

On Mar. 29, 2024, the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 jets have carried out their last QRA mission closing an era that had started in 1981. Beginning this morning, the air defense of the airspace of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (BENELUX) has been handed over to the new Dutch F-35A 5th generation aircraft.

The RNLAF and BAF (Belgian Air Force) share the task of ensuring the air policing of BENELUX airspace, alternately for a number of months. The BAF will take over the responsibility on May 9; from today, until then, the RNLAF will carry out the QRA tasks with the F-35A, stationed at Leeuwarden and Volkel Air Base.

The end of the alert duty marks yet another step towards retirement for the Dutch Vipers (as the F-16s of all variants are commonly nicknamed in the fighter pilot community), a milestone that was marked with the last T-Scramble (“Tango” scramble, for Training purposes), launched by the QRA cell at Volkel Air Base on March 28, to intercept two Dutch F-16s.

Little will change for the pilots now that only F-35s will be used. They still have to be ready in the same way. “The conditions remain the same,” says Major Nick, the squadron’s deputy chief of operations in a public statement. “The F-35 is above all a more modern platform, which makes things easier. The aircraft can fly longer and has better sensors. The F-35 sends the right signal to the enemy.”

Although it’s not a “pure” interceptor, many NATO nations already provide QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) with the F-35, with the Italian Air Force and the Royal Norwegian Air Force being among those that first committed the 5th generation aircraft for air policing mission under NATO command.

Last QRA for the RNLAF F-16. (Image credit: Dutch MOD)

The retirement of the RNLAF F-16s progresses as the Netherlands leads the EFTC European F-16 Training Centre at Baza 86 Aeriana Fetesti in Romania, and made 12 to 18 F-16s (which will remain property of the Dutch government) available for this purpose.

Announced in August 2023 by Lockheed Martin and the governments of Romania and the Netherlands, the EFTC enhance mission readiness through comprehensive F-16 training solution for Romanian and Ukrainian pilots, as well as other regional F-16 operators.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.