By the end of the year Dutch pilots will be flying the two Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-35A Lightnings II now based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Four pilots start theoretic courses this month and should be able to fly the jet by December, the Dutch secretary for Defence announced in Dutch parliament on Wednesday.
Only last month, the Dutch government decided on buying a total 37 F-35As. Two of these jets were already ordered in 2009 and were delivered this year. The two aircraft however remained in the US, first with the Lockheed-Martin factory at Forth Worth airfield in Texas. The two jets are now based at Eglin airbase, where the first Dutch pilots will take it for a spin.
Twenty ground crew will also head to the US for training on the F-35A – or JSF, as the new fighter is still mostly known among the Dutch public.
The F-35s should later on move to Edwards Air Force base in California for further training. That move is programmed for late next year.
Norway signed the contract for the first two Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II multi-role fighter aircraft on Friday September 27, 2013. Oslo pays USD 98 million per plane.
The Norwegian Ministry of Defence says to be delighted by the cost reduction of 6 percent compared to the almost 70 Joint Strike Fighters already produced by the American manufacturer. Earlier the price tag was way above 100 million dollar per aircraft.
Meanwhile Oslo is looking for ways to find another 2 billion dollar to beef up the order to the 52 F-35s the Royal Norwegian Air Force is planned to field. So far the Norwegian parliament already agreed to purchase the first six F-35s.
With the introduction of the new combat fighter aircraft Norway will likely limit its main operating bases to Ørland alone. The base west of the city of Trondheim in the south of the country is deemed to have the best strategic location and the advantage that its position is relatively remote from urban areas.
Like Sweden Norway will likely adapt a system of forward operating detachments, with a small fighter force of four to six aircraft deployed to Bodø. This location in the north is currently still a main operating base for the RNoAF F-16s.
Sola, on the southwestern mainland of Norway, is already a secondary base for a forward operating detachment in times of need. It also serves as NATOs tanker and support airfield if the situation for it arises.
According to several Dutch newspapers (Dutch only), Volkel is to become the main operating base for the F-35A Lightning II aircraft. Of the 37 aircraft about to be ordered, 25 are to be based in Volkel in the southern part of the Netherlands. The rest of the aircraft will be used for training in the United States, for missions abroad and for exercises at Leeuwarden airbase, now still home to two F-16 squadrons.
The reports are based on Dutch MoD findings, although officials will not comment on them. Suggestions are that one Leeuwarden’s F-16 squadrons (322 and 323) will face the axe. The most famous Dutch air force unit is 322 Squadron, which finds its roots in World War II. The squadron’s mascot is a parrot. The other unit is 323 Squadron, also occupied with tactical training and airborne tests.
In the end, Leeuwarden will be home to no more than twelve F-35’s, according to the newspaper reports.
The US Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin finalised the contracts for the delivery of another 71 F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft, despite the fact that none of the previously 95 ordered machines is capable of combat yet. The new contracts include the first F-35s for the Royal Australia Air Force, the Aeronautica Militare Italiano (Italian Air Force) and the Royal Norwegian Air Force, plus the fourth F-35 for the United Kingdom.
The first contract is for 36 F-35s of the so-called Low-Rate Initial Production-6 (LRIP-6) batch, with deliveries commencing in mid-2014. Another 35 Joint Strike Fighters, as the Lightning II is also known, will begin in mid-2015 under the second LRIP-7 contract.
One of the premier concerns of the US DoD are the rising costs of the F-35 program, but according to international press agency Reuters LRIP-6 will be bought for 2.5 percent less costs compared to earlier F-35 purchases for a total amount of U$4.4 billion. LRIP-7 will cost $3.4 billion, or a deal with 6 percent cost reduction of the program that already has been over budget big time.
Of the 95 F-35s ordered as batches LRIP 1 to 5 and as test aircraft, 67 have been been rolled out of the Lockheed Martin production plat in Forth Worth, Texas, so far.
The news must come as a shock to Boeing, who already counted on delivering more than 60 fighter aircraft to the Republic of Korean Air Force (RoKAF). The Silent Eagle was choosen earlier as a capable fighter for an affordable price. But the Korean generals rather want the newer, more stealthy and more modern Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, aka the Joint Strike Fighter.
The thing is: the F-35 is far from operational, while the RoKAF is looking for a quick replacement for its aging McDonnell Douglas F-4s and Northrop F-5s. Some experts therefore argue that Seoul might choose two aircraft, with anything from 50 or more F-35s, to a combination of 24 F-15SEs plus 35 F-35s, to 30 Eurofighter Typhoons plus 24 F-35s, to tens of Typhoons or F-15SEs with lease-options like a certain number of Saab JAS 39 Gripen to fill the gap until the F-35 is ready. Some even think Russian made jets might be considered by the South Koreans, but the most modern Sukhoi T-50 is only slightly closer to full combat readiness than the American-made F-35 so question is how serious such a bid will be. Nobody mentions the French made Rafale, however, which could be an interesting outsider in stead of the Typhoons.
A good thing about the re-opening of the fighter selection process is probably that the South Korean Ministry of Defence seems to recognize the advances made in China with their new and stealthier fighter jets, which might prove a class too high for the initially chosen F-15SE Silent Eagle when they find their way to the North Korean Air Force in a future war scenario.