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.
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