For the first time since the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, a European F35 operating nation has deployed its F35s as close as it can to the raging conflict. The 5th generation, US made, advanced stealth aircraft is at proximity of the ongoing war in Europe.

The Netherlands had only received its first stealth aircraft to their home base in Leeuwarden in 2019. The Netherlands is a “Tier 2” nation, which signified its participation in the development of the aircraft, the F35 replaced the venerable F16 and is slated to be the country’s premier fighter for decades to come.

Deploying 150 personnel and eight aircraft to the Polish Air Force’s Malbork Air Base, the Dutch Air Force brought its brand new F35A “Lightning” aircraft outside of the Netherlands operationally, to what is likely one of, if not, the most sensitive location on NATO’s borders.

The deployment to Malbork is a significant one for the Royal Netherlands Air Force (Koninklijke Luchtmacht (Klu). This is a considerable step showing that the F35 is fully integrated into operations in NATO and that the alliance is past the learning curve regarding its capabilities and the effectiveness it brings to the table.

The KLU earmarked four aircraft for constant alert status while an additional four will train with the Polish Air Force and other allies in the region and will be available to bolster NATO security on its Eastern Flank immediately if necessary.

Malbork Air Base is home to Poland’s Russian made Mig 29 aircraft. These aircraft have played a key role in Poland’s defense in the past, and several of them are now being prepared for delivery to Ukraine.

These aircraft will replace Ukrainian losses and add to the ongoing effort of providing German Leopard Tanks and American Stryker APCs to the battlefield.

NATO is in charge of protecting its member nations airspace, it does this via its Command Centers known as “CAOC”. The diversity of Aircraft that are operated by each individual nation may vary, whether ex-Eastern Bloc Mig 29 or the brand new American F35, all types of fighters operating within the NATO fold are able to work seamlessly with the operations center when called to task.

Cooperation is the key during these missions, an intercept alert call can come in frequently both in North Poland as well as Baltic controlled airspace. This is fairly common when Russian aircraft fail to notify Air Traffic Control when flying to the Russian enclave Kaliningrad. NATO aircraft on duty must be able to scramble and perform an identification and interception of the rogue aircraft.

The Detachment has performed four operational intercepts which means they were called upon to intercept, identify and escort Russian aircraft in four separate instances.

The current deployment is scheduled to conclude in May and are augmented by the French Air Force which is deployed to the Baltic with their Rafale aircraft as well.