Plans to reopen De Peel Air Base for Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II operations from 2024 continue to make progress as the Dutch Ministry of Defence (MOD) strives to find room to expand its operational footprint following earlier base closures amidst the continued deterioration of the global security situation.
The latest development came on October 14, when the Dutch MOD announced that a series of F-35A experience flights are scheduled to take place over De Peel on October 17, with no take-offs or landings planned at the deactivated airfield as the runway is not yet suitable for the Lightning II. During the experience flight, the F-35A will fly different routes to and from the base. If the planned flight cannot take place on October 17, it will instead occur on October 18. Such sorties are being conducted to allow the Netherlands Aerospace Center to collect sound measurements in the local environment, with measuring points being placed around the air base to measure the amount of noise generated by the F-35A in various places.
In a statement, the Dutch MOD provided its reasons behind the move to reopen De Peel as an air base. “Due to the deteriorating security situation in the world, Defence has to practice more. As a result, the number of military flights is increasing. But due to the closure of the Soesterberg, Twenthe and Valkenburg air bases some 16 years ago, the Ministry of Defence has little room to expand the number of flights. All air bases are ‘full’ or almost full. [The] reopening of De Peel Air Base helps to solve the lack of space at air bases.”
Founded as a diversion airfield in 1954 with two parallel runways, De Peel Air Base in Venray was never used as an active air base, even though the installation was expanded for possible NATO use in 1973. The base was closed as an operational airfield in 1993, when it became the home of the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s (RNLAF’s) Groep Geleide Wapens (GGW; Guided Weapons Groups), which is now the sole user of the base. In March 2012, the ground-based air defence (GBAD) base was transferred to the Royal Netherlands Army and renamed the Lieutenant General Best Barracks, but it is still commonly referred to as De Peel.
The Dutch MOD intends to reopen De Peel as an active airfield in 2024 at the earliest, but it has confirmed that it will only invest in the base – including the renovation of its runway – once it has obtained the necessary permits and the airport decision has taken effect. As per the plan, 12 F-35As will be permitted to carry out 1,800 take-offs and 1,800 landings from De Peel each year, constituting 3,600 flight movements over a period of 24 weeks per annum. The air base would be open from 0700hrs to 2300hrs (local time) from Monday to Thursday, each week. The Dutch MOD states that an extra 200 military and civil personnel would be stationed at De Peel as a result of its reopening and adds that there are currently no plans to operate airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft from De Peel following its reactivation.
At present, the Dutch MOD is seeking the necessary permits required to reopen the base as an airfield. In the meantime, De Peel – rather the Lieutenant General Best Barracks – will continue to be operated in its current capacity, with is resident GBAD units and in support of incidental exercises with RNLAF and allied helicopters, along with forward air controller (FAC) or joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) exercises.