The end for Dutch Fleet Air Arm is near
16 Oct 2004
Reformed defence plans will effectively mean the end of the Marine Luchtvaartdienst (MLD - Fleet Air Arm) of the Royal Netherlands Navy. The Navy's future NH90 helicopters will be operated by a Defence Helicopter Command to be established at Gilze Rijen AB. The MLD's P-3C Orion fleet will be sold soon.
As a result of defence cuts, it was announced earlier this year that the P-3C Orion fleet would cease operations on January 1, 2005. Effectively closing Naval Air Station Valkenburg. Last summer, a contract was signed with Germany for eight P-3C Capability Upgrade Programme (CUP) Orions. In September an agreement was signed with Portugal for the sale of the remaining five P-3C Orions, three of which are the unmodified examples which remained in storage in Portugal. The sale still has to be approved by the Portuguese government.
The P-3C Orion, which was operated in the maritime patrol and anti submarine warfare roles, is considered to be obsolete in the post cold war Royal Netherlands Navy. Although other nations have given the Orion more patrol, observation and reconnaissance roles and capability outside the maritime area of operations, it was decided to retire the fleet to cut costs and free up funding for other defence programmes.
The P-3s previously based in the Dutch Antilles have returned home and will be replaced by two RNLAF Fokker 60UTA as an interim solution, until a privately owned company is found to take over the observation and reconnaissance task for the local coast guard. The Fokker 60s will be fitted with new radar, additional fuel tanks and observation windows for the task. Meanwhile, the RNLAF will try to sell off the other two Fokker 60s, replacing them with a single ex-RAF C-130 Hercules in 2006. When returned from the Antilles, the remaining two will also be replaced by a Hercules, bringing the total C-130 fleet to four.
The Navy's 21 Lynx helicopters will be replaced by new NH90 helicopters. In 2000 the contract was signed for 20 Naval Frigate Helicopter (NFH) version of the NH90. However because of the reduction of the Navy's frigate fleet, the requirement for NFHs has decreased to 12. The remaining eight on order will be delivered as Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) for maritime transport duties. The NH90 fleet will be under the control of the DHC based at Gilze Rijen AB. This means the closure of NAS De Kooy and the end of the MLD.
The DHC will also be in command of the RNLAF helicopter fleet, excluding the four remaining Alouette IIIs. Reportedly it will retire in 2007 with the closure of Soesterberg AB, although a recent overhaul will enable it to soldier on for another 12 years.