Tag Archives: F-35

After the Dutch, will Belgium choose the F-35 too?

F-35A Lightning IIs perform an aerial refueling mission with a KC-135 Stratotanker May 13, 2013, off the coast of northwest Florida. (Image © USAF / Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen)
F-35A Lightning IIs perform an aerial refueling mission with a KC-135 Stratotanker May 13, 2013, off the coast of northwest Florida. (Image © USAF / Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen)

After the government of neighbouring the Netherlands announced yesterday to go ahead with the purchase of 37 F-35A Lightning II (Joint Strike Fighter), the Belgium government seems eager to choose a similar path.

According to international press agency Reuters on Wednesday September 18, 2013, experts of manufacturer Lockheed Martin have recently briefed Belgian government officials. Several US government senior officials seem to have confirmed this, and Belgian minister of Defence De Crem has confirmed to Belgium medium De Tijd he is interested.

Since Belgium is no high level partner in the early development of the new stealthy American fighter it is unclear when the first Belgian Air Component F-35s could land at Florennes and Kleine Brogel airbases, even if the planes would be procured tomorrow. However, a possible decision is not expected before the end of 2014.

Like the Royal Netherlands Air Force the Belgian Air Component flies the F-16AM and F-16BM Fighting Falcon. Some sources say the Belgians pursue to acquire 35 to 55 new fighter jets, but those numbers seem quite high and only based on the current force strength of 60 F-16s. It is much more likely Brussels will order 24 to 28 new aircraft if one considers the size of the Dutch order and compares the geographical size of Belgium to its northern neighbour.

2 squadrons
This number might mean a squadron of 12 aircraft at both Kleine Brogel and Florennes, with four aircraft in reserve to replace machines lost in accidents, or go the Danish way and put all fighters on one airbase. In that case Kleine Brogel might hold the best cards. One of those is the B-61 nuclear bomb depot of the US Air Force there, a publicly well-known ‘secret’.

French manufacturer Dassault and the French government are expected to put their full weight in trying to win Belgian members of parliament to their side to choose the Dassault Rafale fighter instead. The oppositional Green party already seems reluctant to choose the F-35 – or a new fighter jet as such – and rather goes on the path of European co-operation or division of labour between the European countries.

© 2013 AIRheads’ Marcel Burger

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the Netherlands buys 37 F-35s

The first Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35 Lightning II (JSF) when it was rolled out of the Lockheed Martin manufactuering plant at Forth Worth, Texas, April 4th, 2012. (Image © Lockheed Martin)
The first Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35 Lightning II (JSF) when it was rolled out of the Lockheed Martin manufactuering plant at Forth Worth, Texas, April 4th, 2012. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

The government of the Netherlands has decided to buy 37 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, aka the Joint Strike Fighter. The Dutch minister of Defence made the official announcement on Tuesday September 17, 2013.

The cabinet plan can already count on a majority in the lower house of parliament, even though parts of the Labour Party with backing from local fractions of Leeuwarden and Uden/Volkel are lobbying for a no go. Those fractions fear the high noise levels of the new air force jet compared to the current F-16s.

The purchase also has to be piloted through the Dutch Senate but the senators will only torpedo the plan if they feel the lower house of parliament hasn’t done its job properly. The nay sayers might obtain some ammunition from a coming report by the Dutch countability office on costs overrun of the Lightning II project.

2 F-35s
The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) officially has already 2 F-35s, officially both delivered to Eglin AFB in Florida to be stored almost immediately waiting the final decision from The Hague. But local spotters have seen the Dutch machines even recently still with the Lockheed Martin factory in Forth Worth, Texas. Pictures of F-35s – among which the Dutch machines – test flying can be found here.

Meanwhile Vanity Fair has published an extensive, scorching story about the current state of the F-35 project.

With the 100th aircraft already in production and many flying in pre-operational state at Eglin, the jet of the future can only fly with great weather, cannot engage in any real combat fight yet, hasn’t dropped a single bomb and is suffering of loads of software problems and of parts already breaking down or malfunctioning when they shouldn’t.

Despite those facts, the US Air Force plans to start training at their main F-35 base of Luke AFB, Arizona, in November this year. The US Marines still hold on to the end of 2014/beginning of 2015 as the year for Initial Operational Capability. Meaning even then the aircraft won’t be much ready for full combat.

Prodigal son
The Netherlands already invested 1.3 billion euro in the JSF project, to buy itself a way into the development of the aircraft and to be amongst the first to receive the prodigal son. Plans called for up to 56 aircraft, but those numbers have been cut substantially to the current 37 Joint Strike Fighters.

Fears amongst aviation enthusiasts that one of the two main airbases, Leeuwarden especially and Volkel, would be closed down with an order for lower numbers of F-35s were unfounded. Despite budget cuts and hundreds of lay-offs, the government aims to move part of a current army base to Leeuwarden. This will mean Leeuwarden will grow.

Volkel AB also stays open, which isn’t unexpected since the US Air Force’s has up to 22 B-61 nuclear bombs located there. Despite the irritation amongst senior government officials about the Americans moving around the stuff the nuclear depot has contributed to the decision to keep Volkel open some sources say.

© 2013 AIRheads’ Marcel Burger with contribution of Elmer van Hest

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UK drops 2nd variant F-35, USN plans F-35 base

With the UK dropping any plans for a mixed Lightning fleet, the US so far will be the sole country with more than one version in service. Here the first F-35C (CF-6) reporting to the US Navy, here at Eglin AFB. (Image © Lockheed Martin)
With the UK dropping any plans for a mixed Lightning fleet, the US so far will be the sole country with more than one version in service. Here the first F-35C (CF-6) reporting to the US Navy, here at Eglin AFB. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

There will be no standard land-based F-35A as a second version of the Lightning II within the United Kingdom. The UK solely commits to the more expensive F-35B to replace the Harrier in Royal Navy operations and will not supplement or replace some of them by the land-based A-alternative to save money.

This was said by Philip Dunne, the Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology at the Defence Security and Equipment International event in London this week. The idea of a mixed fleet is more than three years old. It would give the UK a very much mixed fighter fleet with sort of the same types of aircraft like with the Tornado GR/F and Harrier/Sea Harrier forces.

By choosing the F-35B alone, budget limitations will very much determine the final amount of Lightning IIs to be bought. Plans now call for 48 F-35Bs, operated by units with both RAF and RN personnel, mostly as the air force for the future aircraft carriers within the Royal Navy.

Some sources say the final number of F-35s might even be close to a 140 aircraft. But even with the appropriate funds that number might very much depend on the geopolitical situation of the near future. In other words: if f. ex. Russia poses a bigger threat the number will be higher, if there are more friends than foes the UK’s F-35 force might stay at 48.

US West Coast
In the meantime the US Navy will soon decide over where to base 100 of their F-35C carrier-capable fighters, equipping up to eight squadrons that currently fly the F/A-18C Hornet. The final choice is between Californian bases Lemoore and El Centro. Naval Air Station Lemoore would strategically probably be the best option. It is situated close to Fresno, more or less halfway both San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Naval Air Facility El Centro, east of San Diego almost right on the Mexican border, would make most sense if Mexico rather than China is a threat to the national interests of the United States. But being a bit more remotely located and with mostly great weather conditions, NAF El Centro provides a great training ground. Final decision on the West Coast F-35C base is expected before Christmas.

© 2013 AIRheads’ Marcel Burger

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And the losers are …

The JAS 39 Gripen (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The JAS 39 Gripen (Image © Elmer van Hest)

As reported this week, the F-35A Lightning II has taken the final hurdle in the Netherlands. That leaves a few companies with empty hands, although it has to be said that Saab, Dassault and Eurofighter GmbH did just about everything they could. It’s however no major surprise that the F-35A will after all replace the Dutch F-16 in a few years time. Saab, Dassault, and Eurofighter GmbH were essentially the losers from the word ‘go’, as the Dutch MoD basically had only thing in mind. Here goes a tribute to losers!

The granddaddy of all; the first Rafale first flew on 4 July 1986, two months before the first Eurofighter technology demonstrater and two years before the first Saab Gripen. This is the same Rafale at the Le Bourget in 1991. Excuse the shitty picture, but the Rafale happens to be our favoruite loser. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Le grand-père of all; the first Rafale first flew on 4 July 1986, two months before the first Eurofighter technology demonstrator and two years before the first Saab Gripen. This is the same Rafale at the Le Bourget Airshow in 1991. Excuse the shitty picture, but Rafale happens to be our favourite loser. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

In 2001, Rafale, Gripen and Eurofighter went head to head at the Leeuwarden airshow in the Netherlands. The JSF – as the F-35 was known as back then – was nowhere to been seen, since the prototype X-35 only flew first in October 2000.

First up was this Saab JAS39A Gripen. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
First up was this Saab JAS 39A Gripen … (Image © Elmer van Hest)
... followed by this Italian pre production EF2000. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
… followed by this Italian pre-production EF2000. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Closing the curtains was the Rafale B. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Closing the curtains at Leeuwarden was this Rafale B. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

In the years that followed, all three competitors started appearing in European skies more and more, while the F-35 only really started testing in late 2006.

In 1997, Eurofighters started to appear in the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy. This Spanish twoseater was a unfortunate one, as it crashed in November 2002. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
In 1997, Eurofighters started to appear in the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy. This Spanish two-seater was an unfortunate one, as it crashed in November 2002. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Nice motion blur on this Swedish Saab JAS39A, seen in June 2006 at Satenäs in Sweden. The model A Gripen have now been replaced by C models. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Nice motion blur on this Swedish Saab JAS 39A, seen in June 2006 at Såtenäs in Sweden. The model A Gripen has now been replaced by C models. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
New type, new training. In the UK, RAF Coningsby was and is the place to be for Typhoons, as the Eurofighter EF2000 is now called. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
New type, new training. In the UK, RAF Coningsby was and is the place to be for Typhoons, as the Eurofighter EF2000 is now called. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Export
As production mounted, Saab, Dassault and Eurofighter started looking for export customers for their hardware in the hope that sells would really take off. All types saw action in the 2011 Libya war. Meanwhile, testing of the F-35 continues in the US. Some time between August 2016 and December 2016, the first USAF F-35 squadron will reach Initial Operational Capability.

A Rafale C takes off loaded with maximum fuel (Image © Elmer van Hest)
June 2008: an Armée de l’Air Rafale C takes off loaded with maximum fuel. Despite many efforts, the sky remains cloudy for Dassault. The company still hasn’t sold a single Rafale outside France. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Saab is actually not with empty hands. The company has exported the Gripen to the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and Thailand. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Slightly clearer skies for Saab. The Swedish company exported the Gripen to the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and Thailand. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Eurofighter Typhoon was sold succesfully to Saudi Arabia. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Eurofighter Typhoon was sold successfully to Saudi Arabia. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Show off
In recent years, Gripens, Rafales and Eurofighters were steady performers at airshows worldwide. It is unclear when the first F-35 will be seen outside the United States.

Stick 'm up! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Light ‘m up! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Stick 'm up again! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Light ‘m up again! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Gripen design in true form. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Gripen design in true form. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Spanish Typhoon rolling during an airshow. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Spanish Typhoon rolling during an airshow. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Rafale rolling as well. Rafale and Eurofighter went head to head during several bids. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Rafale rolling as well. Rafale and Eurofighter went head to head during several bids. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Gripen on approach (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Landing time for this Gripen. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Landing time for this RAF Typhoon. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Typhoon on approach. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Rafale aims for a touchdown, and is still doing so in 2013. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Rafale aims for a touchdown, and is still doing so in 2013. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
As a matter of fact, older JAS39A Gripens are already used as museum pieces. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Forever touchdown: older JAS 39A Gripens are already used as museum pieces. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

The final loser
There is however one more loser in the well over a decade long debate about a Dutch F-16 replacement. It’s the F-35A Lightning II that in some years time will touch down on Dutch soil, but will have to do its very best to win the hearts and trust of Dutch taxpayers. Plus, we at AIRheads↑FLY simply think its not the sexiest thing in the sky. Go Rafale!

Dutch F-35A F-001 seen over Texas. (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)
Dutch F-35A F-001 seen over Texas. (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)

© 2013 AIRheads’ Elmer van Hest

Dutch JSF takes final hurdle

Dutch F-35A F-001 seen over Texas. (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)
Dutch F-35A F-001 seen over Texas. (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)

A Dutch order for F-35 aircraft seems only a matter of time now that the leftist PvdA party dropped its opposition against the fighter, according to Dutch media. There now is sufficient support in Dutch parliament to proceed with the order of 35 F-35s – or JSF, as the aircraft is still often called in the Netherlands.

The move by PvdA ends more than a decade of discussion about the replacement of Dutch F-16 fighter aircraft by the F-35. According to sources in The Hague, the Dutch government -made up by PvdA and right-wing VVD –  will finally decide on the order later in September.

The Dutch already took delivery of two F-35 aircraft earlier for test purposes. Despite those deliveries, an order for further F-35s remained subject of heated discussion that mostly focused on costs. One F-35 costs at least 65 million Euro, where 40 million Euro was originally planned. The total budget for the order is 4.5 billion Euro.

Dutch government will present its 2014-plans in two weeks time. A further reduction of available F-16s is on the cards. The two F-35 already delivered – with serial F-001 and F-002 – are still in the United States and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Real testing should start only in 2015.

Read our blog on Dutch F-16s and their flying hours here.

© 2013 AIRheads’ Elmer van Hest

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