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Royal Netherlands Air Force visits 2nd SOS, studies MQ-9 operations

Ties that bond

(Right) Lt. Col. Boudewijn Roddenhof, commander of the 306th Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, takes time to visit with Lt. Col. Brian Diehl, 2nd Special Operations commander, and Col. Caleb Nimmo, 919th Special Operations Wing vice commander, November 19, 2019. Roddenhof and several other members of the RNLAF spent time at Hurlburt Field to learn more about Remotely Piloted Aircraft operations prior to establishing the first MQ-9 unit in the Netherlands. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dylan Gentile)

Ties that bond

Lt. Col. Marco Olivier, Joint Director of Operational Plans, Netherlands Special Operations Command, shares his perspective on MQ-9 operations with members of the 2nd Special Operations Squadron, Nov. 19, 2019 at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Olivier and several other members of the Royal Netherlands Air Force visited the 2nd SOS to learn more about Remotely Piloted Aircraft operations prior to establishing the first MQ-9 unit in the Netherlands. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dylan Gentile).

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Members of the Royal Netherlands Air Force and Netherlands Special Operations Command visited the 2nd Special Operations Squadron here to learn about operating an MQ-9 squadron on Nov. 19, 2019.

“Partnership building with allies and developing a common understanding” of the MQ-9 mission is an important part of what we do, said Lt. Col. Mario Rosa Gale, 2nd SOS assistant director of operations.

The visit allowed the Royal Netherlands Air Force members a chance to see how leadership integrates MQ-9’s into the special operations realm, how training is organized and lessons learned regarding the day to day operations of the squadron. The initiative was a precursor for the establishment of the first MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Aircraft squadron in the Netherlands in the near future.

“As a commander, I'm always interested in learning how other commanders run their squadrons,” said Lt. Col. Boudewijn Roddenhof, commander of the 306th Squadron of the RNLAF. “I’m interested in seeing where their challenges lie as well as some of their best practices. We are going to be the only MQ-9 Squadron in the Netherlands and will likely have to serve multiple customers, to include Special Operations Forces, so obviously we are looking for best practices.”

The RNLAF considered the 2nd SOS perspective on RPA operations invaluable given the unique background of its members and how their skill set enhances the capabilities it provides to the SOF enterprise. The 2nd SOS is comprised of pilots, sensor operators and intelligence operators from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard bringing valuable prior experience in every weapons system from combat search and rescue to fifth generation F-35 aircraft.

“Our pool of talent brings diverse perspective to challenges facing the ever evolving Special Operations Forces RPA enterprise enabling us to employ best practices from all communities,” said Lt. Col. Brian Diehl, 2nd SOS commander.

Members from the 2nd SOS and their counterparts from the Netherlands are considering ways to build on the partnership by first observing joint exercises such as Emerald Warrior with an ultimate goal of fully integrated participation.

“This could lead to partnering beyond MQ-9 flying operations to include air to ground coordination, Processing, Exploitation, Dissemination as well as the other various SOF air component integration,” said Diehl.

The impact of such integrated activities would benefit both organizations.

“Any military recognizes the need for accurate intelligence and the ability to generate intelligence products yourself, so you're not fully dependent on any partners,” said Roddenhof. “The Netherlands is a NATO partner. We obviously contribute to NATO by deploying our ground forces, but the ability to have your own eyes in the sky is an asset.”

The 2nd SOS is well postured to assist the RNLAF in building this capability by having members who specialize in organizing, training, advising and assisting foreign aviation forces in the employment of their own assets. This training resides within Air Force Special Operations Command’s Combat Aviation Advisor community but is not normally contained in RPA squadrons. However, the 2nd SOS employs a small group of graduated CAA pilots who transitioned to the MQ-9 bringing with them the ability to bridge gaps in MQ-9 experience and culture which could accelerate the stand up of initial Dutch MQ-9 capability.

“CAA operations are aimed at helping foreign friends and allies develop and maintain their own air support capabilities, not to conduct operations for them,” said Diehl. “The quality of instruction and vast experience of our CAAs are optimal for partnership building.”

The RNLAF is looking forward to leveraging the knowledge gained from their U.S. counterparts as quickly as possible.

“I think we'll run into each other in a theater somewhere in the world,” said Roddenhof. “Building on that relationship, the network of MQ-9 operators will enable us to move forward and participate in missions. The motto of our squadron is in Latin, and translates to ‘seeing is winning’ and I think that's a very fitting motto for an MQ-9 unit.”