THE HAGUE --- Continuing cuts in the defense budget are grounding more and more aircraft of the Dutch F-16 fleet. The aircraft are inoperative and require repairs, but money for replacement parts and repair operations is not available.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence confirmed a report in the AD newspaper describing the budgetary emergency in the defense organization. "It's no secret that we do not have too many resources," the spokeswoman said.
According to the ACOM military union, two-thirds of the 87 Dutch F-16 fighters remain grounded because they require maintenance. The remaining third are kept in flying condition by cannibalizing parts and black boxes from other aircraft, according to ACOM president Jan Kleian. "At a certain point, there are only skeletons” in the hangar, he said.
The MoD spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny the union’s figures, but noted that "It is a utopia to think that all 87 aircraft are available to fly at all times,” she explained. "There are always aircraft going through maintenance, and those numbers change and go through peaks and troughs.” However, she conceded, “the consequences of [government] policies are now clearly visible.''
"This is a creeping process” of degradation, Kleian says of the the increasing number of F-16s that are defective. "It generates a lot of frustration among the military staff. Three years ago, there were about 45 [F-16s] in flight condition, and this is now much lower. The military want to fix the machines, but there are just no parts, and no money to buy them. They cannot do their job. It's just sad.
“You don’t have so many F16s in the Netherlands just to keep them grounded, do you?”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Dutch sources say the frustration in the Air Force about the availability of the F-16s is exacerbated by the fact that 18 newly-refurbished and upgraded aircraft have been sold to Chile. There is also some concern that the Dutch government has committed to buying the maintenance-intensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for reasons of prestige, when it already has no money to keep its F-16s flying.)