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The Netherlands confirmed its previous choice of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II to replace the air force’s F-16s. But in a statement, the Dutch government noted that “based on current insights, the available financial room is sufficient for 37 aircraft.” A total of 85 had originally been planned. The government said that the acquisition would have to cost no more than the €4.5 billion ($6 billion) previously budgeted. Further, it mandated that the annual operating cost of the F-35 fleet could not exceed that of the current F-16 fleet: €270 million ($360 million).
The F-35 represents the best choice and “the most future-proof option,” the statement noted. “NATO’s analyses underpin the Netherlands’ decision,” it claimed. With defense budgets facing cutbacks in the Netherlands and elsewhere, “opting for a modest number of the best aircraft attests to a sense of reality,” it added. But the Dutch warned that “the cost per unit and the operating costs for the F-35 are not yet definite.” The government is therefore adding a contingency reserve of 10 percent, in case F-35 costs exceed its expectations.
The Dutch bought single F-35As in low-rate initial production (LRIP) lots 3 and 4 for operational test and evaluation, but opted to store them pending this final decision to buy. The country was previously scheduled to buy its remaining aircraft between 2014 and 2021. The U.S. government currently predicts that the unit recurring flyaway cost of the F-35A will drop from about $135 million to about $85 million over that period. The Dutch now plan to introduce their aircraft beginning in 2019.
“The decision also consolidates the opportunities for Dutch industry to gain contracts for high-quality work, both in the production of the F-35 and in the sustainment phase,” the statement noted. Three Fokker companies are already enjoying F-35 contracts, in addition to Thales Netherlands and five others. The National Aerospace Laboratory and the Netherlands Space Office are contributing to the embedded training system.
Last week, the British defense procurement minister again declined to comment on speculation that the UK might halve its total planned buy of 138 F-35Bs. The UK bought three operational test and evaluation aircraft in LRIPs 3 and 4, and plans to order 12 to 14 aircraft for its first squadron later this year.