RNLAF set to begin MQ-9A operations later this month

Having received its first three MQ-9A Block 5 remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) and two mobile ground control stations from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI), the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) is now set to launch operations with the Reaper before the end of April.

GA-ASI confirmed on April 12 that the RNLAF’s first three MQ-9A Block 5s will start operating from the island of Curaçao in the southern Caribbean Sea – located within the Dutch Caribbean region – in late April. The RNLAF has so far received three of the four MQ-9As on order, which will be used to conduct long-range, persistent surveillance missions in line with the country’s national interests.

RNLAF's second MQ-9A Block 5 taxis out for flight test [Dutch MOD]
The second MQ-9A Block 5 Reaper for the RNLAF (serial M-002) taxis out for a test flight in January 2022. Dutch Ministry of Defence

Lt Col Boudewijn Roddenhof – commander of No 306 Squadron, the unit that will operate the RNLAF’s new Reaper fleet – said: “We are excited to receive our aircraft and start operating with them straight away. The MQ-9A Reaper will be very valuable for information-driven operations with the [RNLAF] and the Netherlands’ Armed Forces in general.

“We will operationally test and evaluate the system during our deployment to Curaçao and expect it to be a valuable asset for the Commander of Netherlands Forces in the Caribbean,” he added.

The acquisition of four MQ-9As by the Netherlands was first proposed in a written statement to the Dutch parliament in November 2013, with an initial plan to achieve initial operational capability (IOC) by late 2016, followed by a full operational capability (FOC) declaration before the end of 2017. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified the US Congress of the potential Foreign Military Sale (FMS) – worth $339m – after it was approved by the US State Department on February 6, 2015.

On March 21, 2019, the procurement contract for four MQ-9A Block 5s was agreed with GA-ASI. The first example (serial M-001) was unveiled at the company’s facility in Poway, California, on July 7, 2021, and has been used during acceptance trails at the firm’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility near Palmdale, California. The RNLAF’s four-strong Reaper fleet is expected to be fully operational by mid-2023.