Going tactical

Ludo Mennes and Frank Visser report on C-130Hequipped 336 Squadron, the masters of tactical airlift in the Royal Netherlands Air Force


“Crawl, walk, run” is the best way to describe the steep learning curve 336 Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) has been on in the past five years.

The squadron celebrated its 10th birthday on October 23, 2017, reaching maturity and living up to the squadron’s motto “Sudore ac Pulvere” translated into English as ‘covered with sweat and dust’. AIR International visited Eindhoven Air Base for an interview about current operations of the squadron and the future ahead.


The saying third time’s a charm applies to its history, as 336 Squadron was activated for the first time in September 1961. Equipped with six Dakota aircraft the squadron was involved in supporting the Dutch armed forces during the New Guinea conflict with Indonesia. Only one year later the squadron was deactivated for the first time.

Almost 19 years later on August 1, 1981, 336 Squadron was again re-activated at the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao at Hato Air Base and equipped with two Fokker F-27 Maritime aircraft. The squadron was among others responsible for performing SAR missions, surveillance against smugglers, oil pollution control and transporting Dutch Navy personnel permanently based at the island.

The squadron was unique as it consisted of both personnel from the Royal Netherlands Air Force (pilots and maintainers) and Navy (radar operators and tactical coordinators).

Although being both useful and successful the squadron again was de-activated due to political decisions in 1999 and both aircraft were phased out and later on sold.

The third time 336 Squadron was activated was on October 23, 2007 at its present station, Eindhoven Air Base in the south of the Netherlands. The squadron received two C-130H-30 Hercules from its sister squadron, 334 Squadron, which currently operates two KDC-10 Tankers, one Gulfstream IV for VIP transport based at Eindhoven, and two Dornier Do 228-212 Coastguard aircraft based at Schiphol airport.

Early ops

Starting as early as 1993 a detachment of pilots and maintenance personnel from 334 Squadron commenced training under the supervision of the Belgische Luchtmacht (Belgian Air Force) from Melsbroek Air Base near Brussels. In February 1994 the squadron received its first C-130H-30 extended Hercules with registration G-273, which was deployed for the first time in April of the same year for a humanitarian mission to Rwanda during Operation Silver Back. Due to the immediate commitments the RNLAF broke the tradition of a controlled and gradual workup of a unit to a new weapon system and this meant an acceleration in the squadron’s operational employability. When the Belgium detachment ended in 1997 the squadron consisted of two C-130H-30 aircraft (the second Hercules with registration G-275 was delivered on October 3, 1994), ten pilots, four flight engineers and four loadmasters, with the number of personnel further increasing over the next few years.

To prepare for special ops missions C-130 crew practise unpaved landings at a beach in Denmark.
Dutch Ministry of Defence


When the Dutch government decided in 2005 to double the amount of Hercules transport capacity, the decision was also taken to reactivate 336 Squadron and transfer the existing two C-130H-30 Hercules and personnel to the newly resurrected squadron.

Two former US Navy EC-130Qs BuNo 160608 (c/n 4781) and BuNo 162313 (c/n 4988), were bought in 2007, re-worked by Marshall Aerospace at Cambridge, UK and emerged with Dutch serial numbers G-781 and G-988. Actually, over a period of five years all four aircraft received an extensive update to civil standards, making the aircraft globally deployable. The flightdeck was completely digitally overhauled under a cockpit upgrade programme. The cargo area received several modifications (installation of loadmaster chairs, smoke alarms and improved cabin flighting) under a cabin safety improvement programme. At the end of the modification programme on November 20, 2012, the squadron’s Hercules fleet was complete and up-to-date.

Multiple tasks

The 336 Squadron conducts air transport all over the world, primarily tasked by the European Air Transport Command (EATC), also based at Eindhoven Air Base.

In total, the aircraft are available for 2,400 flight hours per year and these hours are brought into the pool of the EATC. Fflight hours necessary for training and tactical operations for the RNLAF itself have to be taken back from the EATC.

However, over the years, the primary task of air logistics has increasingly shifted towards different tasks such as disaster relief operations (DRO), non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO), airborne operations, and special operations. Additionally, with this increase in demand for specific air capacity the pressure has increased on the squadron’s limited number of aircraft and personnel.

In the autumn of 2017, for example, the squadron was very active in the DRO role as the island of Saint Martin in the Dutch Caribbean Islands was hit hard by Hurricane Irma. Together with 334 Squadron, relief flights were provided in response and the squadron operated for almost four weeks from their former home base Hato airport, Curacao, creating an airlift to the battered island. Almost at the same time as the flights in the Caribbean took place, one Hercules operated for ten weeks until the end of 2017 from Kuwait, to provide intratheatre air transport for Operation Inherent Resolve to the coalition forces fighting against ISIS.

With a third aircraft in maintenance in the same period, only one aircraft remained available for regular air logistic missions, showing clearly the limitations of the available capacity

Royal Netherlands Air Force C-130s have not executed unpaved landings in a way like they did during their deployment in Afghanistan making practise an essential part of the annual pilot training programme.
Dutch Ministry of Defence

Lieutenant Colonel De Gruijter, newly appointed as squadron commander in 2017, is very clear about the present situation: “The squadron has grown over the years from a unit with a relatively simple air transport task to a unit which has to perform multiple tasks in a complex environment. In fact, the squadron is currently delivering much more than should be expected from a unit with the same size, due to the flexibility and effort of all personnel involved. Actually this number of operations would fit a unit consisting of one or two aircraft extra.”

With the increase in the number of different missions and a growing focus on tactical air transport the commander considers it necessary to have a clear qualification and recurrent training program, which emphasizes the paradigm shift from focus on air logistics to focus on tactical air transport. This shift needs to be recognized by both the Air Force staffand the politicians.

Since his arrival he has been focusing on a change of mindset within the squadron, where all parties involved, focus on the effects of a mission (what are the specific goals to be reached) instead of considering the required means (personnel, aircraft) the starting point. Just as the well-known management author Simon Sinek stresses, it all starts with why and not with what.


In order to be capable of performing the different tasks the squadron has to frequently train its ten crews, consisting of two pilots, a flight engineer and two loadmasters.

To practise parachute and cargo dropping a Royal Netherlands Air Force C-130H from 336 Squadron participated in this past winter’s Exercise Real Thaw in Portugal.
Dutch Ministry of Defence

In March 2012, the squadron received its own full flight C-130 simulator. The simulator was at first housed at Hoofddorp near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, but in November 2016 both the KDC-10 and C-130 simulator were transferred to their new location close to Gilze-Rijen Air Base.

Former head of the Air Mobility Training Centre (AMTC), Major Hans-Albert, proudly states that the simulator was a major step forward for the squadron’s training facilities. Before the arrival of the simulator, crews would fly to Tampa, Florida for training, which was costly and difficult to plan as operations at squadron level would continue. Now a considerable amount of flight hours are saved every year, which results in lower costs and an increase in the availability of the fleet.

The AMTC is responsible for the initial training and currency training of pilots and flight engineers on both the KDC-10 and C-130 simulators. Both simulators are level-D, which means they are of the highest simulation quality and realism for different tactical training scenarios.

Major Hans-Albert stated: “with four C-130s we have on average 2.6 aircraft available due to maintenance. Instead of all aircraft being assigned to EATC, we would like to see one aircraft available at all times for tactical training [IQT, MQT and recurrent training], one aircraft assigned to EATC and one spare for air transport, humanitarian missions or tactical missions, depending on the demand. With one aircraft specifically available for tactical training this would boost our experience and operational capability.”

Each year, the squadron needs at least ten weeks of tactical recurrent training in the actual aircraft to remain combat ready. The recurrent training for flight crews in the cockpit is mostly done in the simulator, however for the loadmasters it is a different story. Their training needs to be done in the aircraft, which automatically results in non-availability for missions. An old C-130 fuselage or a full scale mock-up is high on the wish list for improving the loadmaster training possibilities.

Tactical ops

After the arrival of the fourth aircraft in 2012 the squadron has been working hard on building up their tactical capabilities. Previously, with only two aircraft available there was little time left for anything but regular air logistics flights.

Lieutenant Colonel De Gruijter is a former Apache helicopter pilot and has previously commanded 301 Squadron. As a former attack helicopter pilot, he is used to operating together with ground forces and therefore brings a lot of experience on a tactical and operational level into the squadron.

“Tactical air transport”, according to commander De Gruijter, “means the ability to rapidly and successfully operate in or near a theatre of operations, where the keyword is integration between us as a supporting unit and other supported units both nationally and internationally. As a supporting unit, we continuously strive to understand the ground scheme of manoeuvre and the intent of the supported unit commander. Tactical thinking is a mindset, mixed with a lot of hard work and training of the different assets together”.

Since 2014, 336 Squadron has had a strategic partnership with the 11th Air Manoeuvre Brigade (AMB). This brigade consists of the helicopters of the Defence Helicopter Command (DHC) and the 11th Air Assault Brigade of the Royal Netherlands Army. The 336 Squadron has two ground liaison offcers incorporated within the unit and vice versa air liaison offcers are part of the air cell within the brigade for exchanging the necessary knowledge for airborne operations.

In order to practice tactical employment, the squadron often has to go abroad and participate in exercises such as Real Thaw in Portugal or Jawtex in Germany, where much larger airspace is available and low flying is permitted.

In the Netherlands the non-active Deelen Air Base, near the city of Arnhem, is used for practicing airborne operations together with the brigade. In January 2016, a cargo airdrop was performed over the air base for the first time since World War Two, as the squadron was only capable of dropping paras and door bundles. High on the squadron’s and brigade’s wish list is not only a drop zone, but also a landing zone at Deelen, to effectively practice both airdrop and air-land deliveries.

In 2006 a RNLAF C-130H-30 from 334 Squadron deployed to Kabul International Airport to support Dutch and ISAF troops.
Frank Visser
Combined operations between Dutch Herks and AH-64D Apaches are just one option for special ops missions. The helicopters secure an area for the C-130 to land safely.
Frank Visser
A 336 Squadron C-130H participated in last year’s Fighter Weapons Instructor Training course hosted at Leeuwarden Air Base. The Herk not only supported the ighter course but also the Transport Weapons Instructor Training course. C-130H G-781 is seen itted with two ALQ-131 electronic countermeasures pods; one on each outer, underwing pylon.
Ludo Mennes

De Gruijter explained: “The Hercules has a number of characteristics for tactical lying which makes it an ideal platform. Its relative speed and manoeuvrability in the first place, its capabilities for airdrops at low and high level and its short-ield capability for landing/ take-of and loading and unloading in remote areas with hardly any infrastructure and austere landing zones. Our own dirt strip and drop zone at Deelen would further increase integration between the squadron and the brigade since the Air Manoeuvre Brigade is based only a few miles away”.

The C-130s regularly train with units specialized in dropping paras and cargo. For example, they work together with the Dutch Commando Corps in precision dropping of the necessary ‘bullets, beans and batteries’ with the so-called Precision Aerial Delivery System, which consists of a container delivery system (CDS), an autonomous guidance unit (AGU) with GPS and a steerable parachute. These CDS loads are dropped from great height with standof. The advantage of this system is that supplies can be delivered with precision without alarming the enemy that something is being dropped. Also High Altitude with either High or Low Opening (HAHO/HALO) airdrops are performed with members of the Dutch Special Forces. This involves jumping with supplemental oxygen to cope with the thin air at very high altitudes.

For self-protection the aircraft are equipped with an ALR-69 missile warning system and radar warning receiver to trigger the crew and defensive systems on imminent threats. Two ALQ 131 electronic countermeasure jammers and chaf/lare dispensers are employed to defeat threat systems by jamming and/or decoying sensors of threat systems. Flares are popped to defeat infrared missiles, chaf and jamming is employed against radar threats.

With all the countermeasures the aircraft are unique within the European airlift community, only special ops airlift platforms have a more capable self-protection suite, furthermore, these platforms also have the capability for air-to-air refuelling.

The squadron pilots are often initially met with frowning eyebrows by colleagues during exercises, for example the European Tactical Airlift Program (ETAP). However, in the ETAP debrieings they clearly see the results, as the 336 pilots are hardly ever the sitting ducks when being attacked by ighter aircraft for example.

Loading cargo on to a 334 Squadron C-130H-30 at Kabul back in 2006 as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.
Frank Visser
This 334 Squadron C-130H-30 is seen waiting at Groningen-Eelde Airport prior to a para-dropping mission over northern Holland.
Frank Visser


For the first time in its history 336 Squadron participated in the 2017 edition of the Fighter Weapons Instructor Training (FWIT) at Leeuwarden Air Base (see AIR International FWIT, September 2017, p56-59) with its own Transport Weapons Instructor Course (TWIC).

The aim was to deliver the first weapon instructors in the Dutch C-130 community and bring the obtained knowledge back to Eindhoven. Four pilots, including an American and a Belgium exchange pilot, participated from May until early November in the course and graduated on November 9 receiving the much-desired blue weapons instructor patch.

The idea of integrating airlift into this year’s FWIT was the brainchild of both FWIT and TWIC supervisors. Major Darryl, Fflight Commander Tactics, TWIC supervisor and participant of the course explains: “The TWIC graduate possesses the knowledge and skills necessary to provide expertise on tactics and integration with other weapon systems at the squadron, wing and headquarters level, hence the name Weapons Instructor.

bq@”Tactical thinking is a mindset, mixed with a lot of hard work and training of the diferent assets together”.

Lieutenant Colonel De Gruijter, 336 Squadron commander

During Opération Serval, the French mission in Mali, the airield seizures of Gao and Timbuktu were conducted by airborne troops, where Rafale ighter aircraft provided armed overwatch. The lessons learned from this operation clearly demonstrated to us the need for efective integration of transport aircraft with not only 11th AMB, but also with the ighter community. Fighters are able to shape the battle space to create a permissive environment for the more vulnerable transport aircraft. Tactical air transport is performed by either rotary-wing or ixedwing assets, the choice greatly depends on range. For long-range operations, the choice could be the C-130. Our C-130 may need armed overwatch and ighters are capable of escorting us at greater ranges, therefore it made sense to train this together with our F-16 community.”

For the TWIC course the syllabus from the two previous FWIT courses was used to develop a syllabus speciic for the TWIC students. All four students successfully acted as mission commander during the composite air operations (COMAO) phase in Norway to maximize the learning for both courses. In fact, one of the students received an honourable mention during the closing ceremony for the quality of his work as mission commander.

During the last phase the students lew missions in a COMAO environment with radar threats. This involved low-level night lying through the jords on night-vision goggles (NVGs), which was a first time for squadron personnel as it only qualiied in 2017 for NVG low-level operations. The Marine Corps Fire Support Team was integrated in the missions, they were inserted by performing military free fall drops and exiltrated by performing airlands. The team enabled the ighters to deliver ire support to shape the objective area for the C-130.

Major Darryl is very pleased with the results of the combined training and is conident that 336 Squadron will participate again in the next FWIT edition in 2019, which also might see Norwegian participation with its C-130 as they were very interested in the results.

In the meantime, most importantly the acquired knowledge has to be brought into practice at squadron level adding this valuable knowledge to the already existing build-up of their tactical skills.

Para dropping during Exercise Real Thaw in Portugal.
Dutch Ministry of Defence

The road ahead

Commander De Gruijter is positive about the recent developments in tactical lying and future of the squadron. His vision about the paradigm shift from mainly air logistics to tactical air transport is slowly but irmly gaining ground.

“Everybody in the chain, from the politicians at the top to the personnel at squadron level needs to realize it is a diferent mindset. We are much more than a transport unit and are capable of doing things our national airline KLM cannot do; in fact, we go to hostile places where we have few friends. This requires a supported decision on focusing on our tactical capabilities and clear choices of the use of our assets. Saying no to a request for air transport is also an answer.”