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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.