July 3, 2007 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The Dutch defense minister announced Monday the government plans to reduce the number of its F-16 fighter jets as part of a package of spending cuts
Will this soon be all that's left of the Dutch F-16 fleet?
The cuts, which must be approved by lawmakers, come as Dutch armed forces are running up huge bills in Afghanistan, where 2,000 troops are involved in a reconstruction operation in the southern province of Uruzgan.
The proposed cuts aim to "keep the (defense) organization affordable," Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoo said in a letter to lawmakers.
Key cuts announced Monday not only include cutting the fleet of F-16s from 90 to 72 but also reducing the number of Leopard II tanks from 88 to 60, and slashing the number of motorized artillery guns from 36 to 24.
The cuts will not affect Dutch involvement in the U.S.-led development of new Joint Strike Fighter jets, Defense Ministry spokesman Maurice Piek said. While the Dutch are involved in development of the jets, the government has so far only committed to buy two test planes and will not make a decision on buying more until 2010.
"We believe we can responsibly reduce the numbers of some main weapons systems without damaging the expeditionary strength of the military," Van Middelkoop said in his letter to parliament.
Last March, a Dutch news paper reported that due to a shortage of maintenance personnel and a chronical lack of spare parts only 40 Dutch F-16s were operational.