First Surveillance Reapers Handed Over to the Netherlands

 - April 13, 2022, 5:35 AM
The second MQ-9A for the KLu is seen during its acceptance flight trials at GA-ASI’s Gray Butte airfield in California’s Mojave desert. (Photo: Netherlands Ministry of Defence)

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) has handed over the first three of four MQ-9A Block 5 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) on order for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Support equipment and two mobile ground control stations were also handed over at the same time. The RPAs and equipment are due to be transported to Hato on the island of Curaçao later in April to begin surveillance operations with 306 Squadron in the Netherlands Antilles.

The $123.3 million procurement process, undertaken as a government-to-government Foreign Military Sale, began with U.S. State Department approval in 2015, with a Letter of Acceptance being signed in 2018. In March 2019 GA-ASI received a contract to build the four Reapers at its Poway, California, plant. The first was officially acquired from GA-ASI in early February, undergoing acceptance tests in California to validate that KLu requirements had been met. Further acceptance tests cleared the remaining RPAs later in the month. Additional trials will be undertaken once the Reapers have reached Hato.

“We are excited to receive our aircraft and start operating with them straight away,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Boudewijn Roddenhof, 306 Squadron’s commanding officer. “The MQ-9A Reaper will be very valuable for information-driven operations with the Royal Netherlands Air Force 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.” 

From its formation in 1953 at Volkel until 2001, 306 Squadron has been the KLu’s primary reconnaissance unit, operating camera-equipped Republic F-84E/G Thunderjets, RF-84F Thunderflashes, Lockheed RT-33As, Lockheed F/RF-104G Starfighters, and General Dynamics/LM F-16A/Bs. The latter carried the Orpheus camera pod, and later MARS and RecceLite sensor pods. In 2001 the unit lost its reconnaissance specialization and became an operational conversion unit before disbandment in 2010.

A new 306 Squadron was activated in 2018 to prepare for operating the Reapers. Following the initial deployment to the Caribbean, where the good weather and airspace availability are advantageous to operational testing, it is expected that the unit will subsequently move to Leeuwarden in the Netherlands.

The air force's Block 5 Reapers can operate at speeds of up to 240 knots and reach an altitude of 50,000 feet. Maximum endurance is more than 27 hours. The RPA can carry a payload of 3,850 pounds, of which 3,000 pounds can be carried externally. As well as its full-motion video and electro-optic sensors, it can carry synthetic aperture radar/ground moving target indicator for overland use, or a maritime search radar.