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F-35 takes on BENELUX air defence for first time

A file photo of an RNLAF F-35A Lightning II of the type now assigned to the BENELUX air-defence mission. (Royal Netherlands Air Force)

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft have taken on air-defence duties for the BENELUX countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg for the first time.

NATO Allied Air Command announced the milestone on 25 January, saying that a pair of Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-35As at Leeuwarden Air Base had been assigned to the mission, marking a first for the fifth-generation ‘stealth' fighter.

The Benelux Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) agreement is one of several NATO Enhanced Air Policing (eAP) missions that were introduced in 2015 in the wake of Russia's invasion and annexation of Crimea and its military activities in eastern Ukraine.

The mission is controlled by the Air Operations Control Station at Nieuw-Milligen in the Netherlands, which is integrated into NATO-wide air policing arrangements via the Allied Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Uedem, Germany.

Beyond the BENELUX region, NATO has similar missions running in Albania, the Baltic, Iceland, Slovenia, and the Southern Air Policing countries of Bulgaria and Romania. With the CAOC at Uedem directing missions that are based north of an imaginary line that transects Europe along the Alps, those located south of this line (including the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea) are directed by the CAOC at Torrejón in Spain.

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