The Netherlands Is Going To Bet Big On Long-Range Weapons

The Netherlands will be procuring new U.S. and Israeli-made long-range weapons systems for the Dutch Air Force, Navy, and Army, citing an outstanding need for such capabilities in each of the domains. The move comes amid an expansive overhaul of the country’s military strategy spurred in part by the ongoing war in Ukraine and the growing threat posed by Russia.  

The three systems that will be procured are the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) for the Dutch Air Force’s F-35 Lightning II jets, Tomahawk land-attack missiles for the Navy’s De Zeven Provinciën (LC) class frigates and submarines, and the Israeli Precise and Universal Launch System (PULS) for the Army. It is unclear exactly how many of each system the country will be procuring or when they are expected to enter service.

A Dutch F-35 taxis at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Credit: Netherlands Ministry of Defense

The specific procurement of PULS to address the Netherlands’ desire to extend the reach of its ground forces is perhaps the most unexpected of the three. This is because it was just recently announced in February of this year that the U.S. had approved a foreign military sale to the Netherlands worth $670 million for 20 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers and related equipment. 

Shortly after in March, Elbit Systems of Israel, which produces the PULS, announced that the company had won a $133 million contract for the rocket system. However, Elbit neglected to specify who the customer was but did say that it was a European NATO member country.

Now, we have confirmation that the Netherlands has in fact partnered with Israel to address its long-range artillery need. According to a machine-translated statement made by the Netherlands Ministry of Defense, the country conducted a research program comparing the PULS and HIMARS systems to inform the decision. While both meet the Dutch Army’s requirements for this capability, it was ultimately found that PULS can carry more rockets, better fits within the country’s budget, and will likely be more suitable for European-made ammunition.

Elbit Systems describes the launcher as an ‘autonomous’ artillery rocket system that can fire a variety of munitions. The company explains that PULS comes with two ‘pods’ that are each designed for specific rocket types with varying ranges, including the farthest-reaching Predator Hawk with a range of up to 186 miles. Elbit says that this flexibility will prevent artillery units from having to move positions based on the firing range required by the mission, though the system is vehicle-based and designed to be mobile. 

According to the ministry’s statement, PULS will be the first artillery rocket system the Dutch Army has had in years after the country transferred its M270 multiple-launch rocket systems to Finland in 2007 following defense budget cuts. The ministry’s statement explained that Dutch artillery fire support has since been relying on armored howitzers with short ranges.

An example of an M270 multiple-launch rocket system. Credit: U.S. Army photo by Gertrud Zach

To give the Dutch Air Force a long-range armament option, the service is procuring the JASSM-ER specifically for its fleet of F-35s. The country’s initial plan was to acquire just 46 of the stealth jets, but in 2019 the defense ministry announced that it would be bringing that overall purchase to 52 airframes in hopes of realizing its goal of establishing a third F-35 squadron for the RNAF. 

Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, which is based in the U.S., the AGM-158B JASSM-ER is a precision-guided, stealthy, long-range missile based on the initial AGM-158A JASSM variant. Both types share similar dimensions, but the AGM-158A offers a range of only 250 miles while the JASSM-ER has been modified to travel reportedly around 600 miles. This boost is facilitated by an increase in fuel capacity and the addition of a more efficient turbofan engine.

“The F-35 has the armament for combating ground targets that are relatively close,” read the ministry’s statement. “However, the F-35 cannot attack targets far in the hinterland of an opponent if they have a strong air defense. This requires armament with a long range.”

Along with its extended range, the JASSM-ER comes equipped with a 1,000-pound class WDU-42/B penetration and blast fragmentation warhead. The ministry has specifically stated in strategy documents that pairing its F-35 fleet with more precise and long-range weapons of this caliber will be ideal for use against “strategic targets, such as integrated air defense systems, in a heightened threat environment.”

Rendering of a Dutch F-35 fitted with JASSM-ER weapons. Credit: Netherlands Ministry of Defense

Lastly, to ensure that the Netherlands’ naval arm isn’t without its own long-range capability, the Dutch Navy will be getting Tomahawk land-attack missiles (TLAM). Designed by the U.S.-based Raytheon Missiles & Defense, the ministry explained that the cruise missile has been chosen specifically to provide the Dutch Navy’s De Zeven Provinciën (LC) class frigates and submarines with a precision-guided weapon that can strike deep into enemy territory from the sea.

The TLAM has been produced in a number of variants with ranges that begin at 776 miles and reach all the way out to about 1,553 miles when operating under ideal circumstances. While the ministry’s statement didn’t include the specific variant that the Dutch Navy would procure, it’s worth mentioning that the Block IV TLAM is the only type that is still manufactured today and is the youngest variant in the series with a range of 994 miles and a 1,000-pound unitary warhead. It is capable of rerouting mid-flight and can be adapted to hit surface targets. A Block V variant also exists primarily as a re-manufacturing effort to add additional capabilities to existing rounds.

It’s also important to note that the Netherlands almost purchased a number of Block IV TLAMs from the U.S. decades ago but ultimately canceled the order reportedly due to budgetary restrictions. 

The Netherlands Ministry of Defense explained that the decision to procure each of these weapons systems was largely spurred by a re-examination of its defense forces brought on by Russia’s full-on invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The conflict prompted the Netherlands to introduce a new defense strategy later that year dubbed ‘Defense White Paper 2022’ that details the means through which the Netherlands intends to strengthen its military, including increased funding, more cooperation with European partners, and bolstered weapons and ammunition inventories. 

“The war in Ukraine shows once again that fire support over short, medium, and long-range is essential,” said Christophe van der Maat, state secretary for defense in the Netherlands, in the ministry’s statement. “This applies on land, from the air, and from the sea. With the new systems, the Ministry of Defense further substantiates NATO’s common combat power and deterrence. This shows that the Netherlands is taking responsibility by making a strong contribution to this. In addition, the Netherlands thus meets the wish to possess its own rocket artillery and long-range weapon, as described in the [Defense White Paper 2022].”

To realize and fund these ambitions, the white paper explains that the Netherlands’ defense budget will receive an additional $5.37 billion on a structural basis. The intent behind this financial move is to eventually meet the NATO standard of spending 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense in 2024 and 2025, after which the country is expected to fall below the standard while still benefiting from the modernization efforts the increase will fund.

If the plans outlined in the white paper should come to fruition, and it isn’t clear where the U.S. export approvals stand at this time, the Dutch military appears set to undergo a substantial evolution over the next couple of years. One that will bring with it an eclectic arsenal of new long-range weapons systems, two of which will have the potential to hit well inside Russia.

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