The Royal Netherlands Air Force selected the F-16 as a replacement for the F-104 Starfighter and later also as replacement for the NF-5 Freedom Fighter. The jets were built under license by Fokker Aircraft Company. With 213 F-16's ordered in three badges the RNLAF was the second largest operator of the type next to the United States Air Force. The F-16 operated with 9 Squadrons when the final delivery was made in 1990.
History was made on the first day of Operation Allied Force, March 24, 1999, a Dutch F-16AM downed a Serbian MiG-29 fighter with an AMRAAM missile. For the RNLAF it was for the first time since the end of World War 2 that an aircraft was downed. With reduced numbers and more international operations the units are heavily tasked in international operations. Currently the F-16's are deployed in support of the NATO led ISAF mission in Afghanistan.
About two dozen F-16As of the RNLAF were supplied with indigenous Oude Delft Orpheus low-altitude tactical reconnaissance pods transferred from its retiring RF-104G. Designated F-16A(R), the first flew on 27 January 1983, and they entered service with 306 Squadron in October 1984.
In 1989 a two-year study began regarding possible mid-life upgrades for the USAF’s and European Partner Air Forces’ (EPAF’s) F-16A/B’s. The resulting F-16 Mid-Life Update (MLU) package was designed to upgrade the cockpit and avionics to the equivalent of that on the F-16C/D Block 50. The EPAFs redesignated the F-16A/B aircraft receiving the MLU as F-16AM/BM, respectively.
Development of new software and hardware modifications continues under the MLU program. The M3 software tape was installed in parallel with the Falcon STAR structural upgrade to bring the F-16AM/BM up to the standards of the USAF’s Common Configuration Implementation Program (CCIP). Installation is anticipated to be completed in 2010.
An M4 tape has also been developed that adds the ability to use additional weapons and the Pantera targeting pod; Norway began operating flying combat operations in Afghanistan with these upgraded aircraft in 2008. An M5 tape is in development that wil enable employment of a wider array of the latest smart weapons, and the first aircraft upgraded with it are due to be delivered in 2009.
The F-16 is scheduled to remain in service with the RNLAF until 2015. The planned replacement is the F-35 Lightning II, which is scheduled to enter service in 2012.