The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) plans to put the F-35’s Autonomous Logistics Information System (ALIS) to the test when it deploys not one, but two aircraft from the US to the Netherlands next week. “We will study the logistical footprint of this deployment on behalf of all other partners in the F-35 program”, says Col. Albert ‘Vidal’ de Smit, who will lead the deployment by flying one the F-35s from Edwards Air Force Base to Leeuwarden in the Netherlands himself.
On Saturday 21 May, both RNLAF Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs currently based at Edwards for testing purposes, will first ferry to Naval Air Station Patuxent River on the US East coast. They are joined by a KDC-10 tanker and approximately 30 Dutch personnel. On Monday 23 May, the aircraft will cross the Atlantic for the direct flight to Leeuwarden, where they are scheduled to arrive at eight in the evening. Once there, the aircraft will undertake so-called ‘perception flights’ to familiarize those living around both Leeuwarden and Volkel airbases with the F-35’s sound profile. The aircraft is known to be louder than the F-16 it replaces, but the sound characterics are different also.
The Dutch are taking roughly 35 tonnes of support equipment with them on board the KDC-10 and a C-17 Globemaster III. “It may seem impressive, but in fact a lot of the weight is taken up some heavy ground equipment that is independent from the amount of aircraft that we deploy. Nevertheless, we do have a lot of spare parts available to us, including two spare engines that will remain on the US East coast”, says De Smit.
Surveying the deployment’s footprint is one of the objectives during the three week’s stay in the Netherlands, as is testing and evaluating ALIS, the logistical component that is crucial to F-35 operations but is also suffering from various software related issues. Last but not least, the system doesn’t yet interact with the aircraft’s Pratt & Whitney F-135 engine. De Smit: “It ‘ll be interesting to see how ALIS supports this deployment and is able to deliver us certain spare parts on short notice. Even if we don’t need to change parts, we’ll probably still order some parts from the US when we are in Europe, just to see how ALIS and the supply chain hold up.”
ALIS is known to be dependent on server access. The Dutch will experiment by not taking their dedicated server with them, but instead leaving it at Edwards and accessing it remotely from the Netherlands. Information gathered will be shared with the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO). Several Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel will support the Dutch during the deployment, capturing data and lessons learned about ALIS and logistical challenges. Several US staff will travel along to support security requirements for the two F-35s.
Other than that, the deployment will also test how the F-35 interacts with the hardened aircraft shelter at Dutch airbases. “It will mark the first time the jet operates out of these shelters”, says De Smit. “Together with the F-35 JPO we are gathering data on the impact on both the aircraft, environment and human conditions.
During their stay in the Netherlands, the two F-35s generate sorties taking part in the regular flight program, which will further stress the sustainment system of the aircraft. In 2015, the Dutch operated F-16s and F-35s alongside each other during tests at Edwards Air Force Base, highlighting the role of the F-35 as an intelligence platform that provides information to other fighter aircraft via data link systems. According to De Smit, it is not unlikely RNLAF F-16s and F-35s will operate alongside each other ‘for real’ in the 2018 – 2023 timeframe. In 2023, the final F-16 should leave Dutch service. De Smit: “Also, beyond 2023 our F-35s will still have to interact with other allied and 4th generation jets.”
After also taking part in the Leeuwarden Airshow on 10 and 11 June – marking the F-35 international airshow debut ahead of the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Airshow in July – both F-35s will ferry back to Edwards and continue Operational Test & Evaluation (OT&E) there. That will involve getting the aircraft ready for Block 3 software that enables the firing of air-to-air munitions.
Meanwhile, the majority of Dutch taxpayers won’t see an F-35 again until 2019, when the first aircraft should start arriving at Leeuwarden to take the place of the F-16. At least, thanks to next week’s deployment those same taxpayers will know exactly what a Lightning II sounds like.
© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: A Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35 seen an Edwards during the first week of May. (Image © Elmer van Hest)