Print Friendly, PDF & Email

On a strictly nominal basis, the Netherlands is one of the biggest investors in defence among the dual NATO-EU nations. Yet despite a willingness to invest in its armed forces, the Netherlands does not prioritise the defence budget at the expense of other areas.

This is evidenced by its annual level of spending in proportion to national wealth which formerly stood around 1.5% of GDP, but post-2009 this figure steadily plummeted until bottoming out at around 1.15% of GDP in 2014.

Defence Spending

Furthermore, in spite of anticipated upticks in nominal spending – as per the Defence Minister’s September 2015 statement and a new Defence White Paper published in March 2018 – the level of military investment as a share of national wealth is expected to hold steady at 1.2 to 1.3% of GDP out to 2022 and likely beyond.

Like so many dual EU-NATO members, the Netherlands was quick to cash in on the “peace dividend” resulting from the end of the Cold War. Its once strong military shrank from above 105,000 troops in 1989 to just 37,000 by 2016. Capacity and capability atrophied, while an economic recession in 2009 and concurrent spike in the nation’s budget deficit prompted Dutch lawmakers to seek ways in which to wring savings from the government checkbook.

By 2016, the defence budget had fallen to 1.17% of GDP and the military – the Army in particular – had become overstretched by operational demands ranging from cooperative security within a Benelux aegis to NATO/EU rapid response and peacekeeping missions, while being hollowed-out from within.

When a new four-party coalition government under Prime Minister Mark Rutte finally emerged in October 2017, the partners formed a consensus that favoured bolstering defence capability as a means of meeting NATO collective defence obligations. The coalition agreement published on 26 October 2017 called for steadily increasing investment in defence by allocating additional resources eventually exceeding €1.5Bn per year beginning in 2021. The additional money is to restore basic military readiness levels and improve operational readiness by replacing and upgrading materiel and high-end hardware.
A new Defence White Paper released on 26 March 2018 calls for modernising defence via an infusion of over €25M across 15 years (2018 to 2033) for capital investment. The largest recipient will be the Royal Netherlands Navy, which will receive funding for projects to replace existing inventories of M-class frigates, mine countermeasures vessels, and diesel submarines. Army investments will be geared toward upgrading existing platforms, including the BUSHMASTER wheeled armoured vehicles, FENNEK armoured reconnaissance vehicles, CV90 infantry fighting vehicles, short-range air defence systems, and Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled howitzers (SPHs). The Air Force will seek to upgrade and expand its APACHE combat and CHINOOK transport helicopter fleets, while adding the A330 multirole tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft under a multinational programme.
Funding over the short term will be topped up with an additional €910M in 2018, €1.21Bn in 2019, €1.41Bn in 2020, and €1.51Bn in 2021. Despite the additional funding, however, the defence budget is not expected to rise above 1.3% of GDP during this timeframe.
The missions of the Dutch military will remain largely the same going forward. The Netherlands has long served as a strong contributor to overseas operations under the NATO, EU, and UN flags, and emphasises flexibility, response, and interoperability when training and outfitting its armed forces.

Cooperative arrangements have been formed to maximise limited resources and forge stronger bonds with allied partners. These include the trinational Benelux Defence Cooperation (building on the binational Belgian-Dutch naval cooperation), the joint 1st German Netherlands Corps (1GNC) based in Germany, the cooperative Royal Netherlands Marine Corps and German Navy Sea Battalion arrangement (which reached Initial Operational Capability in September 2017), and the long-standing UK-Netherlands Landing Force active since 1973 (now part of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force), as well as the integration of the Netherlands’ 11 Airmobile Brigade with Germany’s new paratrooper commando division (operational in 2014).

The Royal Netherlands Army, in particular, has sought integration with the German Bundeswehr as a means of retaining core capabilities and punching above its weight regionally.

Aircraft Programmes

The premier defence project among all the Dutch military service branches is the F-16 fighter replacement programme. The original plan was to order 85 aircraft for the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) at an estimated cost of €6.1Bn. That plan has now shrunk to an expected order of just 37 F-35s, two of which are test aircraft.
The RNLAF F-16 fleet has shrunk since 2003, and going forward will be composed of 58 fighters assigned to four squadrons.

A Royal Netherlands Air Force C-130 HERCULES sits on a runway at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, 6 October 2017. The RNLAF has been supporting Coalition forces in Baghdad with supply missions. (Photo: US Air Force)

In the transport role, the RNLAF has two C-130H-30 “stretched” HERCULES, plus two C-130Hs rebuilt from C-130Q standard that were delivered in 2010. Additional fixed-wing transport is provided through the Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) programme in which the Netherlands is allocated 500 flying hours per year on the C-17s based at Papa, Hungary.
The Netherlands and Luxembourg are purchasing two Airbus A330 multirole tanker transports (MRTTs) together, in what they expect will evolve into a pooling and sharing arrangement to include European partners Belgium, Germany, Norway, and Poland. The purchase will see the two aircraft stationed at the Dutch air base at Eindhoven, where they will be exclusively operated by the Netherlands and Luxembourg until the fleet expands by another six air-to-air tankers under the NATO Support and Procurement Agency’s Multinational MRTT Fleet (MMF) programme. The A330s will be delivered in 2020, just in time for the Royal Netherlands Air Force to retire its pair of KDC-10 tankers.
The RNLAF training role is assumed by a fleet of F-16Bs and PILATUS PC-7s. The latter were acquired between 1989 and 1997, and a replacement is expected to be sought between 2020 and 2027.

Fighter Fleet

The RNLAF fighter fleet is composed of 68 F-16AM fighters (another 21 F-16Bs form part of the trainer fleet with the PILATUS PC-7s). In 2005, these aircraft underwent the Pacer Amstel modification programme, which upgraded the aircraft to an M3 designation. The previous M1 update (introducing the Terma ALQ-213 electronic warfare management system on the aircraft) and M2 update (software update allowing LANTIRN pods to be added) were conducted in 1998 and 1999, respectively. The M4 software update quickly followed the Pacer Amstel programme in 2006, allowing the aircraft to carry improved infrared guided air-to-air weaponry. All 68 F-16s not being retired were to undergo the M5 upgrade through 2016.

The radar of a Dutch Patriot missile system (Photo: MoD Netherlands)

The retirement of the F-16 fleet and its replacement have remained a source of disagreement in the Netherlands since 2009, when the full effects of the global financial crisis began to be felt in the Dutch economy. It had long been planned to have a successor to the F-16 fighters chosen by 2009, but political disagreement within the former Balkenende coalition government resulted in an agreement to postpone the decision until 2012.

That date was then pushed back to 2014 as per an agreement by the left-right coalition government formed by Prime Minister Mark Rutte (Rutte II) in October 2012.

Finally, following some 15-plus years of political wrangling, the government green-lighted what had long been considered a foregone conclusion. On 17 September 2013, it announced a purchase of 37 F-35s via a €4.5Bn (US$6Bn) special budget earmarked for the project (the total estimate was revised upward to US$5.2Bn in September 2015). The Dutch Parliament’s ratification of the government’s choice of the F-35 on November 7, 2013, meant the RNLAF finally knew what it would operate in the years ahead.

The Dutch F-35s will be gradually brought into service between 2019 and 2024 as the F-16s are retired. The possibility of acquiring additional F-35s as production ramps up and units prices come down has not been ruled out, though reports emerged in November 2017 that, due to the high dollar exchange rate, funding for the final three units of the 37 may prove tight.

A Level 2 partner in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme, the Netherlands purchased two test aircraft at a cost of US$250M as part of the programme’s initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) phase (and invested US$800M in the JSF development phase).
The first of these made its maiden flight on 6 August 2012 and was delivered to the Dutch in July 2013, from low-rate initial production (LRIP) Lot 3. The first flight of this aircraft conducted by an RNLAF pilot occurred in December 2013. The second aircraft was delivered on 14 February 2014, from LRIP Lot 4. Both are based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where they are pooled with other F-35 trainers belonging to the US and UK as part of a common international test and evaluation (T&E) fleet.

Once the T&E phase is completed in mid-2019, the two aircraft will be utilised by the RNLAF primarily for training purposes, but also for occasional operational use. Dutch F-35 pilots will initially be trained in Italy on the Alenia Aermacchi M-346.

A first fully operational production batch order for eight new F-35s was announced by the Dutch MoD on 26 March 2015. These units are to be delivered by 2019.

In terms of local industrial involvement in the JSF programme, former Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert estimated in November 2016 that Dutch work share in component maintenance totaled €4.7Bn, with work potentially involving 100 Dutch businesses. This announcement came shortly after the Pentagon picked the Netherlands to act as the maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade (MRO&U) service centre for 14 components (mostly landing gear parts) of the F-35.

Then on 13 April 2017, the Dutch MoD inked an agreement for the Netherlands to act as an engine maintenance provider for the F-35 at its Logistic Center Woensdrecht. Another selection followed in August 2017, when the Netherlands was picked by the Pentagon to act as the F-35 spare parts centre and distribution hub for Europe.

Transport/Tanker Fleet

The RNLAF has a small fleet of transports and tankers. The transport fleet is composed of four C-130H HERCULES, the first two of which (both in the C-130H-30 “stretched” variant) replaced four Fokker 60 twin-turboprops in 2006. Two more aircraft were purchased in November 2005 under a US$63M contract with Derco Aerospace. These ex-U.S. Navy EC-130Qs were converted to C-130H standard by Marshall Aerospace in the UK. The first reconfigured C-130H was delivered to the RNLAF on 2 March 2010, while the second was delivered on 15 July 2010.

Meanwhile, the RNLAF will fill any capability gaps by hiring commercial aircraft, and by participating in the NATO Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) programme, which provides for three C-17As based at Papa Air Base in Hungary to be used by the Alliance’s Heavy Airlift Wing.

Another project conducted through partnership involves the A330 MRTT aircraft. The Netherlands and Luxembourg are together purchasing two Airbus A330s in what they expect will evolve into a pooling and sharing arrangement to include European partners Belgium, Germany, Norway, and Poland. The purchase – largely financed by the Netherlands’ MoD – will see the two aircraft stationed at the Dutch air base at Eindhoven, where they will be exclusively operated by the Netherlands and Luxembourg until the fleet expands by another six air-to-air tankers under the NATO Support and Procurement Agency’s MMF programme. The effort to procure A330 MRTTs to outfit NATO partners is being led by OCCAR, the European organisation managing multinational weapons acquisition programmes.

In December 2014, a trio of European NATO partners – the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland – announced their intentions to open negotiations with Airbus to acquire up to four A330 MRTTs, yet so far only the Netherlands has taken an active step in the process. The two aircraft being ordered by the Dutch MoD will be delivered in 2020, just in time for the Royal Netherlands Air Force to retire its pair of KDC-10 tanker/transports.

UAV Programmes

The Dutch Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) began the process of procuring medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (MALE UAVs) in 2003, with consummation taking 15 years to accomplish. The on-again, off-again project was postponed in 2005, brought back in 2010, and then postponed again after 2011. Finally, a tender was published on February 6, 2012. Then, on 21 November 2013, then-Defence Minister Hennis-Plasschaert announced in a letter to Parliament that the MoD had selected the MQ-9 REAPER as its MALE UAV solution.

A sale of the REAPER to the Netherlands was cleared by the US State Department on 6 February 2015. The total sales package – which includes training, the four UAVs, four mobile ground control stations, and two spare engines, plus additional elements and subsystems – is estimated at US$339M in value. But it was not until 17 July 2018, at the Farnborough Airshow that a contract was finally signed for four MQ-9 REAPER Block 5 UAVs.

Helicopter Programmes

Under the “Defence after the Credit Crisis” white paper unveiled in April 2011, the Dutch armed forces’ Netherlands Defence Helicopter Command (DHC) began to experience capabilities pressure. The plan required the retirement of the entire fleet of 14 AS 532 COUGAR transport helicopters. A later amendment to that plan noted that eight of the COUGARs would instead be retained through 2019 to serve in the search-and-rescue (SAR) role. These, however, may remain in service through 2023 (the end date for their useful service lives) due to issues with the NH90s.

The maiden flight of the first new RNLAF CHINOOK CH-47F occurred on 25 January 2011. (Photo: RNLAF)

In the meantime, the Royal Netherlands Navy’s multipurpose, shipborne Westland LYNX SH-14Ds were retired on 11 September 2012, in favour of the NH90 NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH90). Their retirement is being followed by that of the AB-412s, which have been used in the SAR role and are also being supplanted by the NFH90.
The RNLAF acquired 30 AH-64D APACHE Block I attack helicopters from 1997 through 2002. A total of 28 remain active in the RNLAF inventory. The service intends to retain these units in operational use out to 2050. In order to ensure their serviceability, the MoD will put the fleet through a remanufacture upgrade that will bring them up to AH-64E GUARDIAN standard. An earlier upgrade to Block II status was undertaken from 2013 through 2016.

On 20 February 2018, the US Defence Department’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress that the US State Department had approved a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) for the remanufacture/upgrade of the Dutch APACHEs to AH-64E GUARDIAN standard. The notification estimated the cost of the project at US$1.191Bn. The remanufacture will involve replacing the legacy engines with the more powerful T700-GE-701D engine and new transmissions, rotorblades and other components. Work is expected to be conducted between 2021 and 2025.

CH-47F Chinook

Despite initial budget frustrations and setbacks, the efforts to expand the capabilities of the Royal Netherlands Air Force in strategic and tactical air mobility have resulted in boosts to the fleet of CH-47 CHINOOKs.

In January 2006, the Defence Materiel Organisation signed a production preparation agreement with Boeing for the purchase of six to nine new CH-47F CHINOOKs. A final direct commercial contract worth US$335M was signed with Boeing on 15 February 2007, for six new-build CH-47F CHINOOKs to be delivered by 2011. The original delivery schedule of July 2009-January 2010 was pushed back due to software problems. The maiden flight of the first new CHINOOK CH-47F occurred on 25 January 2011.

Delivery of the first two new CH-47Fs to the Defence Materiel Command at Gilze-Rijen air base finally occurred in July 2012, after which modifications were made before handover to the DHC on 8 October 2012. The sixth and final CH-47F was handed over in early 2013.
Three of the CH-47F CHINOOKs operate out of 298th Squadron based at Gilze-Rijen air base. The other three are stationed in the United States as part of a permanent Chinook training detachment.

While the six CH-47Fs were being acquired, plans were put into motion to upgrade all 11 CH-47D CHINOOKs to the “F” standard starting in 2016. Then, in a surprise statement to Parliament on 16 May 2012, then-Defence Minister Hans Hillen stated that rather than upgrade the older D models, a purchase of 11 new-build F standard Chinooks would be pursued. This was deemed to be the more cost-effective solution to ensuring the Chinook fleet’s viability through 2045.

An 11-unit CH-47F procurement was estimated at well over €250M, a cost that the MoD hoped to partially offset through the sale of the older CH-47Ds.

But, in another surprise step, the Netherlands placed a government-to-government sales request with Washington calling for 17 CH-47Fs instead of 11. The State Department signed off on the request, and a potential FMS deal estimated at US$1.05Bn was announced to Congress on 19 March 2015.

Then, on 7 September 2015, then Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert announced to the lower house of Parliament that the Netherlands would purchase 14 new-build CH-47F MYII helicopters having a Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS); i.e., the same as on the models operated by the US military. Hennis-Plasschaert stated that the purchase would be made in December 2015 in order to take advantage of the economies of scale created by the US’s own second multiyear CH-47F procurement package.
In the meantime, the Netherlands would move forward with modernisation of the six existing CH-47F NLs.

On 14 April 2016, Boeing was awarded a contract by the US Department of Defence for the manufacture of 12 CH-47Fs and their delivery to the Netherlands. The value of the contract was US$308M. A follow-on modification to the contract was announced by the Pentagon on 28 April 2017, to include the final two CH-47F units, thus bringing the full order up to 14 helicopters. All deliveries are to be wrapped up by 31 December 2020.

Under the 2018 Defence White Paper there is mention of adding three more CHINOOK CH-47Fs in the future, thus completing the full 17-unit quantity outlined in the original 2015 FMS request.

NFH90

In order to replace its ageing fleets of AS 532 COUGARs and Royal Netherlands Navy AgustaWestland SH-14D LYNX helicopters, the Netherlands has procured the NH Industries NH90 helicopter. Developed by a consortium including then domestic Stork Fokker, the NH90 is produced in two primary variants – Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) and marinised NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH90).

In order to replace its ageing fleet of AS 532 COUGAR and LYNX helicopters, the Netherlands has procured the NH90 helicopter. Depicted is a Royal Netherlands Navy NH90 NATO Frigate Helicopter. (Photo: MoD Netherlands)

The Netherlands initially ordered 20 NFH versions of the helicopter. In December 2005, the order was altered to 12 under a new contract, with the remaining eight to come in the Maritime Tactical Transport Helicopter (MTTH) configuration. An option for an additional two helicopters was included in the new contract.

In April 2007, the Dutch MoD announced delays to the programme that pushed back the initial delivery schedule to 2009. Under the revised plan, the first two NH90s were to be delivered in late 2009, followed by four in 2010, five each in 2011 and 2012, and a final four in 2013. The latter dates ultimately became a victim of further delays; delivery of the first Dutch NFH90 occurred on 21 April 2010. The second NFH90 was delivered on 21 July 2010.

The first NFH90 operationally deployed was assigned to the EU Naval Force’s counter-piracy “Operation Atalanta” in the first half of 2013. A second unit was deployed to the Caribbean in the latter half of the same year.

By June 2014, 12 NH90s had been handed over to the DHC at the Maritime Air Station De Kooy in Den Helder, but just five had been delivered in the so-called Full Operational Capability (FOC) configuration (the first Dutch FOC-configured NFH90 was delivered on 30 January 2013).

The others had arrived in Medium Operational Capability (MOC) configuration, with two having since been returned to Italy for update to FOC configuration.
The remaining five units in MOC condition were to be brought up to FOC standard throughout 2018.

The Dutch NFH90s are operated by two squadrons: 860 Squadron at De Kooy (12 NFH90s) and 300 Squadron at Gilze-Rijen (8 NFH90 MTTHs).

Warship Programmes

The Royal Netherlands Navy (RNLN) has seen significant changes since 2004, shedding six of its eight KAREL DOORMAN class M frigates and concentrating on a more expeditionary-based outlook. The effort fell under the Dutch “Navy Study 2005” (it is also referred to as the “2005 Naval Transformation Plan”) calling for a versatile RNLN fleet that can both protect home waters and act as a maritime base from which to initiate and support expeditionary efforts on land.

As part of the reorganised force, four oceangoing patrol vessels, a second landing platform dock, and a joint support ship (KAREL DOORMAN) were ordered, with the latter commissioned in 2015 to replace the replenishment oiler HNLMS ZUIDERKRUIS.

Also in the works is the €50M to €150M Service Life Extension programme for the RNLN’s four WALRUS class submarines. The WALRUS class submarine SLEP – a programme referred to as the Instandhoudings programma WALRUS-klasse (IP-W) – began on 13 May 2013, and ran through 2018. The SLEP will enable the RNLN to keep the vessels in service until 2025-2030. The ships were designed and built by Dutch industry and entered service in the early 1990s.

The Royal Netherlands Navy is attempting to secure approval for the launch of a WALRUS class replacement project entailing new flexible submarines that would enter service at the time the elder submarines neared their end-of-life date. The Dutch government has announced its intention of maintaining a future submarine component as a crucial niche strategic capability, and the project is in the earliest research phase. A refined research phase, type downselect, and contract negotiations with a supplier are to be undertaken by 2021 in hopes that the lead submarine will enter service by 2027.

The two remaining KAREL DOORMAN class M frigates, VAN SPEIJK and VAN AMSTEL, began two-year upgrades (the first began in September 2010 and the second in October 2012). Following their upgrades, these ships are slated to remain in RNLN service through 2024.
In the meantime the respective defence ministries of Belgium and the Netherlands signed a letter of intent on November 30, 2016, regarding the joint procurement of four new frigates and 12 new minehunters. Belgium will be tasked with the minehunter element, under which delivery of the new minehunters to replace the existing TRIPARTITE class is to begin in 2023. Belgium and the Netherlands will receive six minehunters apiece. For its part, the Netherlands will be tasked with overseeing the frigate project under which ships displacing 4,000-5,000 tonnes will be built, with anti-submarine warfare to be their primary mission.
A final Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the two countries in 2018, followed by final contracts for ship production. Secretary of State for Defence Barbara Visser announced to Parliament on 2 May 2018, that the Navy will be getting its two new frigates and six minehunters, plus an additional combat support ship (CSS) to supplement the joint logistic support ship KAREL DOORMAN and enable the Navy to always have an available support ship.

The new CSS will be purchased off the shelf to expedite delivery, which is expected by 2023. The first of the two new frigates will be delivered in 2024-2025. Delivery of the six new minehunters is planned for completion by 2030.

Missile Programmes

The Netherlands is involved in the NATO SEASPARROW consortium, which collectively purchased 294 Evolved SEASPARROW Missiles (ESSMs) from Raytheon for US$223M. The Dutch ESSM Block 1 air defence systems on the four DE ZEVEN PROVINCIEN class air defence and command frigates are being upgraded to Block 2 standard, which will be the standard utilised on the successor class to the two M-class frigates.

In 2015, the Royal Netherlands Navy commissioned the joint support ship Zr.Ms. KAREL DOORMAN to replace the replenishment oiler HNLMS ZUIDERKRUIS. (In 2015, the Royal Netherlands Navy commissioned the joint support ship Zr.Ms. KAREL DOORMAN to replace the replenishment oiler HNLMS ZUIDERKRUIS. (Photo: Kees Torn)

The Netherlands MoD is also upgrading the Raytheon Mk 48 heavyweight torpedoes used on the Royal Netherlands Navy’s four WALRUS class submarines. The RNLN uses a Dutch version of the Mk 48 designed in the 1970s for deployment in deep waters. This torpedo has only limited shallow-water capabilities, and the Dutch MoD wants to adopt an Australia-Canada-US model for use in shallow waters. An FMS order for Mk 48 Mod 7 advanced-technology torpedo conversion kits, at a cost of US$150M, was placed on behalf of the Netherlands via the Pentagon’s DSCA on 29 July 2010.

The Royal Netherlands Army’s short-range air defence systems are to receive midlife upgrades as per the 2018 Defence White Paper.

Patriot Modernisation

Rather than pursue the acquisition of a new air defence missile system such as the Lockheed Martin MEADS, the Netherlands is opting to upgrade its existing Raytheon-produced PATRIOT batteries. These systems were approaching the end of their useful service lives when then Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert provided testimony to the Dutch Parliament Defence Committee in the fall of 2015 that a service-life extension of the PATRIOTs made more sense than an outside procurement. In anticipation of the modernisation process, the Dutch PATRIOT batteries were removed from Turkey’s border with Syria in the fourth quarter of 2015.

The Netherlands awarded Raytheon the PATRIOT upgrade contract on 6 October 2016. The contract involves the service life extension of the existing PATRIOT systems, plus the acquisition of Modern Man Stations (MMSs) from Raytheon. The MMSs will replace the legacy control panels in the command and control shelters of the existing Dutch PATRIOT systems.

The modernisation process began in March 2018 and will run through 2022, and once completed will ensure the PATRIOTs remain serviceable through 2040.

Vehicle Programmes

After deciding to phase-out and mothball its remaining fleet of LEOPARD 2 main battle tanks (MBTs) in April 2011, the Royal Netherlands Army disbanded its two tank battalions a month later in May 2011. But by September 2015, the decision to discard MBT capability altogether had been reversed. The Netherlands sold its remaining stock of 16-18 retired LEOPARD 2A6 tanks to Germany at a symbolic price in return for the right to use them from German stocks. As such, all 18 units are being upgraded by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann to the 2A6MA2 standard by 2019. These will equip a Dutch tank company within the German Army’s Panzerbataillon 414. This tank battalion is a joint Dutch-German undertaking begun in 2015. It comes under the command of the Dutch 43 Mechanised Brigade, which in turn forms part of the German 1st Panzer Division.

Under the 2018 Defence White Paper, the Army’s inventories of BUSHMASTERs, FENNEKs, CV90s and PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers will all receive midlife updates roughly between 2021 and 2023. The Army will also receive 12 new-build CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) reconnaissance vehicles, procured through a pooled arrangement with a European NATO ally from 2018 through 2022.
The Netherlands Army is currently seeking a solution for its Wheeled Vehicle Replacement programme (DVOW in Dutch acronym) under which new air assault and lightweight protected vehicles will be acquired.

BOXER Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle

After much drama and hesitation, the BOXER programme is moving forward to meet German and Dutch Army requirements. The BOXER is an 8×8 Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV) being produced by the Armoured Technology (ARTEC) consortium. The BOXER will replace the obsolete YPR-765 tracked infantry carriers still in service with the Royal Netherlands Army.

The ARTEC consortium, based in Munich, consists of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (36%) and Rheinmetall Landsysteme (14%) of Germany, and the Dutch company Stork (50%). The BOXER MRAV is being built for high protection against both direct and indirect fire weapons. It is being fitted with an air conditioning system, a heating system, a fire detection and suppression system, an NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) system, and a GPS; it will be outfitted for C3I workstation integration.

In 1999, Germany and the UK signed a development contract regarding the BOXER. The Dutch entered the programme in 2001. But in July 2003, the UK made official its long-expected withdrawal from the trinational BOXER armoured vehicle programme. German participation often appeared tenuous because of constant reports that Germany was critical of the programme. Any indication that Germany was having doubts would have effectively killed the programme.

Britain’s departure from the programme caused the cost of the BOXER to rise to €3M from €1.7M. With escalating costs in mind, the Dutch MoD advised ARTEC that it must present an acceptable production price by September 2005, and correct several defects by introducing technical modifications. The ARTEC bid would also have to exhibit a level of Dutch industrial participation in order for it to be deemed palatable. Faced with these stipulations, ARTEC asked for an extension, which it received from both the Dutch and Germans. But on 28 February 2006, the Dutch state secretary in the MoD, Cees van der Knaap, reported in a letter to Parliament that the revised unit price for the BOXER was still too high. The new price presented by ARTEC was around €2.6M to €2.9M per vehicle.
By this time, the Dutch order had changed due to operational requirements. The new requirement was for 257 new vehicles (from an original request of 200) in five variants: command and control, battlefield repair and recovery, ambulance, transporter, and combat engineer. Disgruntled by the ARTEC proposal, the Dutch MoD proposed reopening the MRAV competition to include Giat Industries’ VBCI, Iveco Fiat/Oto Melara’s CENTAURO, Swiss General Dynamics’ MOWAG PIRANHA IV, and Patria’s AMV.

In response, ARTEC’s Dutch manufacturer, Stork PWV, began renewing negotiations to reduce the unit price to an acceptable level. Due to the price reductions, the MoD, under van der Knaap, advised Parliament that it wanted to go ahead with the programme. Based on this recommendation, the Dutch Parliament approved plans to proceed with the BOXER procurement. On 19 December 2007, both Germany and the Netherlands approved production of the BOXER.

A Dutch LEOPARD 2A4 MBT (Photo: ESD Archive)

The approved order was scaled back to the original production requirement, which called for 200 BOXER vehicles in five variants (command post – 60 units, cargo – 27 units, ambulance – 52 units, driver-trainers – 8 units, engineer model – 53 units). This mix was altered under a new agreement with OCCAR signed on 25 May 2016. Instead the Dutch will receive 36 command post vehicles, 92 engineering variants, and 12 cargo variants to go with eight driver-trainer models and the 52 armoured ambulances.

The value of the contract for 200 BOXERs is an estimated €624M (US$783M), with 30-year operating costs reduced to €938M (US$1.177Bn) from the original estimate of €1.125Bn (US$1.4Bn).

Deliveries of the first units – eight driver-training variants – occurred in 2011, with first delivery of the ambulance variant (NL AMB) occurring on 7 April 2014. OCCAR said that all deliveries would be completed by 2018, and the last series-produced unit rolled off the production line on 17 July 2018. However, due to the need to create financial space for the F-35 acquisition programme, the MoD has opted to sell 12 BOXERs prior to their handover to Dutch forces.

The BOXER vehicle has been given the designation Pantser Wiel Voertuig (PWV) by the Royal Netherlands Army. The BOXER is used by the RNLA in select support roles for infantry units utilising the Hagglunds CV9035 infantry fighting vehicle.

Electronics Programmes

The Netherlands requested a possible FMS of 32 AAR-57A(V)7 common missile warning systems (CMWS) from the US. A formal notification to Congress regarding the sale, valued at an estimated US$58.2M, was made by the Pentagon’s DSCA on 10 July 2017. The prime contractor for the project is BAE Systems. The new missile warning systems will equip the RNLAF’s AH-64D APACHE helicopters.

VOSS Soldier System

The Netherlands is developing its own individual soldier system called VOSS (Improved Operational Soldier System). The programme was launched in 2008, and the first elements to be ordered were a “smart vest” and a C4I module upon which other aspects of the system – ballistic protection and load carriage – will be integrated. This order was expected in 2013, following the issuance of a Request for Proposals in December 2011. The acquisition of up to 5,500 complete infantry suites was planned to begin in 2014 and run through 2018. The small arms element of the programme did not proceed until 2015.

SMART-L Air Search Radar Upgrade

The Dutch MoD plans to upgrade the SMART-L air search radars on the Royal Netherlands Navy’s four DE ZEVEN PROVINCIEN class frigates with an extended long-range (ELR) mode. The announcement was made on 26 September 2011, and a €116M contract was extended to Thales Nederland by the DMO in June 2012. The first upgrade was fitted by 2017, and the entire upgrade programme will be completed by 2021.

When the insertion of the new technology is complete, the ships will be able to detect and track ballistic missiles from a range estimated at 2,000 kilometres. Once enhanced, the DE ZEVEN PROVINCIEN frigates may become part of NATO’s Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defence programme.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force is acquiring land-based versions of the SMART-L radar system as a replacement for its Thomson-CSF Medium Power Radars (MPRs) acquired in 1972. The new SMART-L radars have a ballistic missile defence capability. They will be located in Wier and Herwijnen. FOC for these radars is slated for 2020.

Edward Hobbs is a Director at Hawk Associates, one of the leading global providers of security and defence intelligence and analysis for governments and industry.