PhD defence Rolf de Winter: How the helicopter became an indispensable weapon for the Dutch armed forces

Helikopter van de Nederlandse Luchtmacht, Eurocopter AS 532U2 Cougar Mk 2. Foto: via Wikimedia Commons
A Eurocopter AS 532U2 Cougar Mk 2.

On 30 June, Rolf de Winter will defend his PhD thesis ‘Of Everyone Yet Nobody: The Helicopter and the Dutch Armed Forces, 1945-2020’. From a limited support tool to an armed forces-wide principal weapon system, De Winter studies the development of the helicopter within the Dutch armed forces. Subsequently, he draws conclusions about the functioning of the defence organisation and its handling of new technologies.

In the shadows

Nowadays considered one of the most significant technological innovations of the 20th century, the helicopter provided modern armed forces with a multi-purpose tool. Its capability for deployment at the interface between land, water, and air made the helicopter a unique and versatile weapons system.

After World War II however, the Dutch armed forces came to face the helicopter as a military phenomenon and their acceptance of it as a fully-fledged main weapons system seems to have been slow. For decades helicopter units stood in the shadow of weapons systems that the military leaders of the navy, army, and air force considered more essential for the strength and future development of their respective units. It was only during the last decade of the 20th century that the helicopter became a main weapons system frequently deployed on very diverse international missions.

Arduous process

In his thesis, De Winter argues that it was mainly the evolving task perception (taakopvatting) of the armed services and political and administrative decision-making both proved to have had a major impact on the acceptance of the helicopter as a main weapons system. First, navy, army and air force considered the survival of their own organisation more important than jointly accepting an integral task for the armed forces as a whole. Only when the task perception changed during the early 1990s did a foundation for prioritisation of the new weapon system emerge.

De Winter shows that gaining intellectual mastery of a complex and versatile weapon system is an arduous process that evokes resistance. The helicopter case study further shows the ambiguity of political influence in decision-making processes: decisiveness and tenacity of defence ministers manifested in both positive and unfavourable ways on helicopter issues.

Start date and time
End date and time
Hybrid: online (click here) and at the Utrecht University Hall
PhD candidate
R. de Winter
Van iedereen en niemand: De helikopter en de Nederlandse krijgsmacht, 1945-2020
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. J. Hoffenaar
Prof. J.P.B. Jonker