THE HAGUE, Netherlands --- The Dutch Parliament’s Lower House voted yesterday to cancel the order for the first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, and to stop Dutch participation in the program’s Initial Operational Test and Evaluation phase.
It also voted to direct the defense ministry to begin anew the Request for Proposal and the complete evaluation of the F-16 replacement program, for which a final decision is due in 2012.
The basis for yesterday’s vote is that the price estimates provided by Lockheed Martin in response to the original Request for Information of 2002, and the Supplemental Request for Information of 2008, are unreliable, as confirmed by the late 2009 reports of the US Joint Estimate Team and US Government Accountability Office.
The motion was proposed by the Labour Party, and was supported by the Socialist Party (SP), Green Left, the right-wing PVV (Freedom Party of Geert Wilders), the Liberal Democrats D66 and the Party for the Animals. The resolution passed with a majority of 79 votes to 71 votes.
If implemented, Parliament’s decision means that The Netherlands would cancel acquisition of the first F-35A aircraft from the Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) 3 batch, ordered in May 2009 with a special clause calling for its cost to be paid back if Parliament voted against funding a second aircraft in 2010. Also, there will be no contract for a second F-35A aircraft from the LRIP 4; the pre-payment for related long-lead items has to paid back, and the participation in the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (MOU signed in May 2008) will be ended. It does not, however, mean that the Netherlands will necessarily pull out of the program, although that is the outcome favored by the Labour Party.
However, the vote was dismissed by Minister of Defence Eimert van Middelkoop as Labour Party “election rhetoric” in the run-up to the June 9 general election. The Netherlands are governed by a caretaker government since the Cabinet lost a confidence vote in February on whether to continue the controversial military deployment in Afghanistan.
“The issue will be discussed in Cabinet, possibly today,” MoD spokesman Otte Beeksma told defense-aerospace.com. But he said that, in a May 20 statement, van Middlekoop said he was neither willing nor able to act on Parliament’s vote as in his opinion the government’s caretaker status means it cannot take any irreversible decision before the election. He added that any decision will be taken by the new government, noting that there will also be a new Parliament that might take a different position.
However Labour MP Angelien Eijsink said that it would be irresponsible to continue with the JSF program given information that has been available for months about delays, the Nunn-McCurdy cost breach, the delay of the IOT&E by 2 years until 2015, and poor progress in flight testing. She mentioned that the Parliament was still waiting for the promised, guaranteed price of the LRIP4 plane, while promised data about noise levels is still not available, and this is an important issue in a densely populated country like The Netherlands. Finally, the industrial business case for JSF participation has failed because of the lack of orders, of much lower than anticipated in 2002, and poor international contracts for the F-35 aircraft.
The Labour Party wants to continue Dutch participation in the F-35’s System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase, as signed in the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding on SDD. Other parties including SP, Green Left, D66 and PVV want to end the SDD participation.
In 2002, The Netherlands signed a MOU for a Level 2 participation in the SDD phase, and invested US$ 800 million in the project. Christian Democratic Party (CDA) and Liberal-conservatives (VVD) and the Christian Union (CU) were seriously irritated by the Labour Party’s position, and were prepared to wait until the missing information on prices and noise levels became available. (ends)