The Dutch Air Force Doesn’t Have Enough Fighters for Air Shows
No aerial displays in 2015
In an announcement on its official Facebook page in late January, the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 display team cancelled its 2015 air show season.
Citing operational demands, the much-loved team said it wouldn’t be flying its single-plane display until 2016 at the earliest.
With a large deployment to Jordan to combat Islamic State, a commitment to defend NATO’s air space both at home and over the Baltic and large training detachment in the United States, the RNLAF’s fleet of F-16s is spread thin.
The Dutch air force has 61 F-16s.
But in the Ministry of Defense’s own estimation, the RNLAF’s Viper fleet can, at best, support six machines on short-term deployments, with longer deployments allowing for only four aircraft.
With eight aircraft currently deployed to Jordan alone, the service is asking a lot of its aging F-16s.
The strain on the fleet had already caused the team to lose its signature orange-painted F-16, nicknamed “Orange Lion” after its special lion motif.
The machine got fresh paint—the Dutch air force’s standard gray tactical scheme—prior to last year’s air show season. This allowed the machine to participate in normal operational and training tasks.
For a fleet that continues to shrink in numbers—and is also under pressure from multiple deployments—keeping a plane out of normal operations just for display purposes makes less and less sense.
The RNLAF has had a long tradition of colorful display teams, with teams like the Grasshoppers flying the Allouette III helicopters, the NF-5-equipped Double Dutch and single-ship performers piloting the F-104 and F-16.
But owing to shrinking budgets and declining force structure, the tradition is in jeopardy. And don’t count on a long-term solution. The RNLAF plans on buying just 37 new F-35s to replace the 61 F-16s.