AMSTERDAM/WASHINGTON --- Dutch orders for the Pentagon's F-35 warplane are likely to be cut back, sources close to the discussions told Reuters, citing cost overruns and delays in the program, uncertainty over the Netherlands' defense strategy and budget cuts across Europe.
The Netherlands may cut 17 to 33 F-35s from its initial plans to buy 85 of the new warplanes, according to people close to the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly since final decisions are not expected until later this year. (…/…)
The Netherlands is one of several allies, along with Britain and Italy, that are deeply invested in the program. So far it has spent a total of 1.233 billion euros ($1.59 billion) on its involvement, the General Auditor reported in October.
However, continued Dutch participation in the project and the size of future orders are under increasing scrutiny as the euro zone's fifth biggest economy has been forced to come up with billions of euros in government spending cuts, while the two parties in the ruling coalition are at odds over the F-35.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal Party, re-elected in September, has always been in favour of the F-35, but his new coalition partner, Labour, called in July for ending Dutch participation in the project. The plane's rivals are lobbying hard for cancellation, according to Dutch media reports.
The Netherlands was slated to buy 85 F-35 A-models to replace its F-16 fighter jets. But the former defense minister last year said the government would buy as few as 56 F-35s because costs had risen and only 68 F-16s needed to be replaced. The new coalition, sworn into office in November, expects to finalize a new defense policy and F-35 purchase plans this year. (end of excerpt)
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(EDITOR’S NOTE: The consensus in the Netherlands for the past year has been that the F-35 order should be scaled back to about 55 aircraft, but a bigger cut is likely not only because of financial constraints but also because only 24 of the Dutch air force’s fleet of 68 F-16 fighters are available for operational duties due to maintenance issues and the lack of spare parts, Parliament was told last week.
These problems would likely be even more acute with a more expensive and complex aircraft like the F-35, Dutch observers fear, so the wisdom of buying more and more costly F-35s and then park them in hangars because the air force can’t afford to fly them is being increasingly questioned.
The budget currently available for the new fighter procurement is € 4.5 billion, but this includes 21% Value-Added Tax, meaning that the air force’s real purchasing power is of only € 3.72 billion, which in the best of conditions might buy fewer than 35 F-35s.
The Dutch Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence has already scheduled presentations of their competing fighters by Boeing and Saab, and the situation is also being monitored by the Eurofighter consortium.
“We are monitoring the developments in the Netherlands as we do it in all other markets worldwide. If the Netherlands decide to reassess their position with regards to a replacement for their F-16 fleet and consequently invite Eurofighter to take part in a re-evaluation process, then we would respond appropriately,” a company spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.
A final Dutch decision on the way forward in its fighter replacement program is expected this year.)