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Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway are all formally investigating alternatives to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to replace their F-16s. On September 1, Saab bid a package including 85 Gripen Next Generation (NG) fighters to the Netherlands, offering a “fixed acquisition cost” and “significant savings over 40 plus years operation.” Two weeks earlier, Boeing delivered a proposal for 48 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to Denmark, touting “a good balance of capability, cost and risk.” The Gripen NG has already been offered to Norway. All three of these northern European nations are helping to fund the system design and development (SDD) phase of the F-35. Moreover, the Netherlands has already bought its first F-35, one of 19 in the third batch of low-rate initial production (LRIP) aircraft. The UK is also funding its first two F-35s within this batch.
Other international partners who will buy some LRIP aircraft are Australia (beginning in 2011); and Italy and Turkey (starting in 2012). Canada, Denmark and Norway are not due to start buying F-35s until 2014, when international multi-year procurement (MYP) starts. Lockheed Martin officials still say that the MYP aircraft will cost about $45 million (CTOL version, in 2002 prices). By 2014, however, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and the UK will have already bought at least 87 aircraft under the much more expensive LRIP contracts, according to the current production schedule. At the recent Farnborough airshow, a British procurement officer said the F-35 program was “grappling with the efficient build-up of production.” Lockheed Martin promised to explore whether MYP can start earlier, and make a revised proposal in January.