While deployment of MQ-9 aircraft is routinely shrouded in secrecy, Netherlands Ministry of Defence (MoD) published details of the deployment of 2 Reaper drones that have arrived in Romania on 31 January 2024, to gather information on Nato’s Eastern Flank, with a third aircraft due to follow shortly. 

Positioned on the Black Sea, a seat of conflict for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Romania offers Nato forces a critical area of observation for threat activity in the region.

The Reaper Drones will contribute to Nato’s Air Shielding mission, according to a release from Netherlands MoD in October 2023, monitoring the situation at the borders of Alliance territory and using its seasons to gather data and information. The release emphasises the role this information can have in preventing possible misunderstandings and escalating that could ensue. 

The release also states that while Nato will specify the intelligence that it needs, Netherlands will determine how the Reapers are employed to gather this intelligence, and processing of the intelligence will remain a national responsibility. 

Speaking in October 2022, during an announcement for aerial drills for Nato’s Air Shielding mission, Brigadier General Ömer Nafiz Gülmezoglu, Deputy Chief of Staff Plans at Allied Air Command said that the mission “provides an enhanced posture that allows the Alliance to deter potential threats from the air.”

Gülmezoglu continued: “Air Shielding brings an unprecedented number of Allied aircraft on patrol on Nato’s eastern flank . . . They are defensive, but they signal Nato’s readiness to protect our Allies.” 

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By GlobalData

While little is usually mentioned about the activities of MQ-9 reaper drones, Tristan Sauer, a defence analyst for GlobalData, believes that the increased transparency that Netherlands are demonstrating is intended to improve a level of deterrence, adding to that of Nato, and increasing the deterrence profile of Netherlands itself. 

“As other Defence Ministers in Sweden and Germany begin openly discussing the possibility of war with Russia within the next five years, I think the Dutch are feeling the need to more visibly highlight their capabilities and involvement, so as to send a message both to Russia and the US that its an active participant,” said Sauer. He adds that this approach will play favourably for Netherlands should they seek further Foreign Military Sales in the near future. 

In August 2023, Netherlands doubled its order of the MQ-9 Reaper drone, lifting the total being procured from General Atomics Aeronautical systems from four aircraft to eight of the versatile,  high endurance drones. 

This block of MQ-9 aircraft is equipped with electronic intelligence pods, communications relays, maritime radar, and the potential for future armament. Their specifications include an endurance of up to 27 hours, up to 240 KTAS speeds, and the ability to operate at altitudes of up to 40,000 feet. With a payload capacity of 3,850 pounds (1,746 kilograms), including 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms) of external stores, the MQ-9A ensures long-endurance, persistent surveillance capabilities, incorporating full-motion video and synthetic aperture radar/moving target indicator/maritime radar.

Additional reporting by Harry McNeil.