The tentative coalition agreement approved by Dutch political parties after over three months of negotiations is set out in a 46 page document which outlines their proposed policies for the next four years.
Regarding the replacement of F-16 fighters, the text simply states that “F16s have to be replaced. In 2011 the government will buy a 2nd JSF test aircraft to participate in the Initial Operational Test & Evaluation phase.”
In an appendix containing financial details, the document sets out the defense ministry’s budget until 2015, explaining that
“Savings are realised for 0.4 billion euros structurally are based on the concept of a versatile operational force. The total of jet fighters to be purchased will be reduced further to realise an additional 0.1 billion euro saving in O&S costs.
“Savings in the first years will be realised by changing the investment quota and – during this government period – not buying any JSFs with exception of the 2nd test arcraft.”
Consequently, this means that if this government cabinet finally takes office, and subject to Parliamentary approval, Summary when this Government will come in to force; and after Parliamentary approval, it will:
- Buy a 2nd JSF aircraft (LRIP4 contract); this also means that the 1st JSF (LRIP3) is confirmed;
- Participate in the JSF’s Initial Operational Test and Evaluation phase;
- The decision about the F-16 replacement is postponed until after the next general elections (2014, or possibly earlier if this government falls);
- Fewer combat aircraft will be bought to replace the F-16. It would appear the final number will not be 85, as originally planned, but 58 as previously planned for procurement as “Batch 1”.
Sources say that the decision to provisionally continue with the JSF program is due to a 180-degree turn by Mr. Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party, as earlier this year it had voted against participation in the IOT&E, against acquisition of a 2nd F-35, and voted against the entire JSF project with a lot of arguments.
However, they are now allowing the Netherlands to proceed with the F-35 project, without any explanation of their reversal.
Given the cost of the F-35, buying the 2nd test aircraft means a further step towards a future with a substantially smaller Royal Netherlands Air Force, and questions have been raised whether it is possible to have a real, operational and sustainable air force with only 58 combat aircraft.