The Netherlands has finally decided to purchase the Joint Strike Fighter, but will buy fewer than half the number it originally envisioned.
The Hague says it will now purchase 37 of the 85it had intended to purchase when it first signed up with the program in 2002. It based the decision on the need to remain within the tight €4.5 billion ($6 billion) budget assigned for its Fighting Falcon replacement program and the €270 million annual operations budget for fighter types in the service’s inventory.
“The F-35 provides the most options from a military operational perspective,” Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert says. “The aircraft also offers great potential for further development, especially in the area of networked operations. Also important are the opportunities for international cooperation in areas such as training, maintenance and deployment.”
The Netherlands plans to begin F-35 operations in 2019 alongside the country’s last F-16s, which will be retired in the early 2020s. The Dutch defense ministry does not rule out purchasing more aircraft “within the financial framework.” But a policy document on the future of the Netherlands armed forces that revealed the JSF buy highlights one of the ongoing frustrations of the program, as air arms try to work out the operational and ownership costs of the aircraft. As a result, the defense ministry is creating a “risk reserve” of 10% to be applied to the program and operational costs.
The ministry says the “resulting financial capacity is sufficient for the purchase of 37 aircraft.” It will now use that number for planning purposes and notify its F-35 program partners of the changed figure.
Political wrangling and program opposition delayed a final F-35 procurement decision, despite the fact that the Netherlands has already paid more than €1 billion into the program and purchased two F-35A development aircraft for use in the U.S.-led operational test and evaluation phase.
A finalized Dutch purchase had been rejected in parliament, mainly by the center-left Labor Party (PvdA) while in opposition. But that decision changed after the Labor Party formed a majority coalition in the Lower House with Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberal Party (VVD) following last September’s elections.
One of the development aircraft has been in storage at Edwards AFB, Calif. since April. The other is currently flying from the Lockheed Martin factory in Fort Worth.