F-35 Lightning II News

The Dutch F-35 debate (updated)

May 30, 2008 (by Eric L. Palmer) - The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program in the Netherlands has taken a turn. The next fighter for the Dutch could be a more open competitive process.

The F-35 returns to flight this afternoon at NAS Fort Worth, Lockheed-Martin facility on December 7th, 2007. [Photo by Keith Robinson]

A compromise between political parties means that only 10% of the money for the purchase of two F-35As to take part in the U.S. test program will be authorized. Then, between October and December, other aircraft will be considered along with the F-35. These include the Rafale, Typhoon, and F-16 block 60. With the compromise, consideration will also be given to the new generation variant of the Gripen, the Super Hornet and an evaluation for extending the life of the current Royal Netherlands Air Force (Koninklijke Luchtmacht) F-16s now in use. In February 2009, Parliament will then decide on the full funding of the two F-35A aircraft.

What started all this? Over time, the opposition Dutch Labor Party (PvdA) gained enough political sway to bring questions forward on the status and cost increase of the F-35 JSF program. This included the desire of a more independent evaluation for the fighter aircraft selection process. The Ministry of Defence wanted to keep the evaluation of the next fighter aircraft selection a less open process.

In clear and unexpected sharp words, MP Angelien Eijsink of the Labour Party criticized the incomplete and unreliable information to the Parliament. She said that Labour only would agree in the MoU-IOT&E (Memorandum of Understanding, Initial Operational Test & Evaluation) under three strict conditions. First, the promise that the industrial business case of the SDD (System Development and Demonstration phase) would conform to the original calculation model without costs for the taxpayer. Deputy Defence Minister Mr. De Vries and all parties agreed. Second, the promise that the evaluation of the end-life update of the F-16 would be independent. Because she said: “Lockheed Martin is manufacturer of both the old F-16 and new JSF. There are indications of fast rising prices of F-16 spare parts. So Lockheed Martin has a key role in the JSF, how to decide on an end life update, in an independent way?”. Third, the promise, that the formal evaluation of alternatives to the JSF would be possible options.

De Vries said an investigation to all options by the Ministry of Defence would be reliable, but he opposed any idea of external and independent experts involved in the investigation. Also he was not prepared to do an evaluation of other candidates than JSF, Eurofighter, Rafale and F-16 Block 60.

The Labour (PvdA) coalition party persisted in their wish to have an independent investigation of all options. MP Angelien Eijsink said: “Because employees of the Dutch Defence organization are working at the Lockheed Martin plant, involved in the JSF development, they will not be independent, a different situation from the 2002 evaluation”. After intense deliberations it didn’t appear the Government wanted to create a crisis over the cabinet's decision to participate in the next phase of the Joint Strike Fighter.

In a debate in the full Parliament on Wednesday the Lower House Deputy Defence Minister De Vries did support an investigation, primarily under responsibility of the Ministry of Defense, but with independent external experts involved and extended to all possible options, including Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and Saab Gripen Next Generation. Labour (PvdA) MP Angeline Eijsink reluctantly agreed that the Christian democrat (CDA) state secretary would carry out the study himself. She "trusts" that De Vries is in a position to guarantee the independence and transparency of the research. Later, the Dutch Parliament voted and approved the compromise.

Lockheed Martin came out with the following statement: "The Netherlands Parliament on May 29 approved an earlier decision by the Council of Ministers to participate in F-35 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation, and to purchase long-lead items for F-35 low-rate production lot 3. A final decision by Parliament to purchase two F-35 aircraft for IOT&E will occur early next year. Lockheed Martin welcomes the approval, and we look forward to the delivery of the first two F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters to the Royal Netherlands Air Force."

In other news, AA-1, the F-35 test aircraft has returned to the air after maintenance and software work with flights on the 22nd and 28th of May. Also, the maiden flight for BF-1, the first STOVL F-35B test aircraft could happen any day now.

Johan Boeder contributed to this report.