A possible delay in the first series of the Joint Strike Fighter planes will not necessarily affect the delivery of two Dutch test planes, according to the Dutch Ministry of Defence.
The head of the JSF programme said it should be slowed down. Lockheed Martin is due to deliver the first Dutch test plane by August 2012 and the second in March 2013.
US Vice Admiral David Venlet told the website AOL that the production of the officially named F-35 Lightning II (Joint Strike Fighter) should be slowed down after tests in the past 12 months have revealed potential cracks and weak spots in the fighter plane’s airframe.
"Most of them are little ones, but when you bundle them all up and package them and look at where they are in the airplane and how hard they are to get at after you buy the jet, the cost burden of that is what sucks the wind out of your lungs.” Vice Admiral Venlet said.
He stressed that safety and performance have not been compromised. The irregularities do mean that parts of the airframe will last less long. The vice admiral called it a mistake that the first planes were already being produced while models were still being tested.
The Pentagon has ordered 30 planes this year. The number is due to increase every year, so that by 2017 200 planes will be delivered to the US air force. The US plans to buy more than 2,400 F-35s at a cost of 283 billion euros. The Netherlands is due to make a final decision whether to replace its ageing fleet of F-16s with modern JSFs after 2015.
Dutch Labour MP Angelien Eijsink wants more clarity about a possible delay. “There are problems with the sensors and the ejector seat and I can list another ten problems.” She said she was already aware of the problems with the airframe.
Defence Minister Hans Hillen is due to visit the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin next year, when he will find out more about developments. The JSF programme has been dogged by delays and technical problems.