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 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.
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.