Defence is ready to order the first eight F-35 fighter jets, which should arrive in 2019. This week, Defence said the 'acquisition preparation' of the F-16 Replacement project was completed, through a letter to the Lower House.
In this letter, Ministers Hennis and Kamp conclude that the purchase of the F-35 fits within the previously established financial framework. Defence continues to question if the numbers are sufficient for the stated level of ambition, and whether the aircraft is suitable for the intended tasks. Aspects such as noise and employment forecasts are discussed. Defence previously ordered two F-35 test aircraft. From next year, they will take part in the operational test phase in the United States.
Last year, the government decided to replace the F-16 with the F-35. With the purchase of the F-35, Defense deliberately chose a sophisticated and forward-looking fighter. The F-35 provides the most options in terms of military operational perspective. The aircraft is the best match for mobile air defense systems and provides greatly improved observation capabilities that are common to all missions. The Netherlands F-35 will also make an important contribution to resolving the military shortcomings that NATO and the EU have identified.
In total, the Netherlands will purchase 37 F-35 aircraft, which will be based at Leeuwarden and Volkel air bases. In the second half of 2019, the first two aircraft will arrive in Leeuwarden, followed at the end of 2021 by the first F-35s for Volkel. During the transition phase, from 2019 to 2023, Defence will operate both the F-16 and the F-35. The number of F-16s will decrease in that period, while increasing the number of F-35's.
Netherlands and Belgium
Of the 37 F-35s, 32 will be based in the Netherlands, and the other 5 will remain in the United States for training and testing. In addition to the standing commitment to monitoring the national and allied airspace, four fighters will be available for simultaneous and continuous deployment for other missions. This will begin in 2024, when all aircraft will have been fully delivered.
Belgium and the Netherlands also want to cooperate in airspace surveillance, and a treaty is being prepared in this respect. The envisaged cooperation will lead to better utilization of the operational capabilities of both countries.
Nine pilots will be available for air force missions, making several sorties a day per aircraft possible in a theater of operations.
For residents of the Leeuwarden and Volkel airbases, the arrival of the F-35 will be a major change. In the coming years, Defence will provide comprehensive information and consultation at different levels. There are rules to reduce noise for local residents and the environment. We will look at the noise in the air and on the ground.
The TNO and the National Aerospace Laboratory research institutes have determined on the basis of recent data that the F-35’s noise levels can stay within the noise zones at Leeuwarden and Volkel. However, half of the number of night flights planned from Volkel will in fact take place elsewhere, for example in foreign countries.
9 billion euros
Defence is not alone in having an interest in the F-35. The arrival of the fighter also provides jobs and employment opportunities for Dutch industry.
The total value of signed production contracts is currently over a billion dollars, with a potential of 9 billion euros over the entire production period to 2040. In addition, from this year contracts for the maintenance phase will be awarded.
Last Thursday, the F-35 Joint Program Office in the United States announced that the Netherlands is one of the European countries that will carry out the maintenance of the F-35 engines in the future. If future F-35 engine maintenance work is in the Netherlands, this will ensure that engine maintenance know-how is retained. In addition, this service provides a boost to employment.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The above statement summarizes a full report submitted to Parliament, and accompanied by an information package that is available here (scroll to bottom; in Dutch).)