F-35A Lightning IIs perform an aerial refueling mission with a KC-135 Stratotanker in May. The Netherlands has announced it will replace its F-16 fleet with F-35s. (Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/US Air Force)
WASHINGTON — The Netherlands announced on Tuesday that it has selected the F-35 joint strike fighter as the official replacement for its fleet of F-16s, a major international sale for the fifth-generation fighter.
The selection completes a 15-year long odyssey that has seen the Netherlands waver between strong support and serious concerns over whether the F-35 is the right choice for its military.
“The F-35 is a well-considered choice for a high-tech, future-oriented air force,” according to an official Dutch government statement. “From a military operational perspective, the F-35 offers the greatest number of options. It is also the most future-proof option.”
The purchase will be for 37 of the F-35A conventional-take-off-and-landing variants, which will be the most widely produced model of the jet. The US Air Force intends to purchase more than 1,700 F-35As.
The Dutch have budgeted €4.5 billion (US $6 billion) for the F-35. Because operating costs for the F-35 are still undecided, the country is putting in a contingency reserve of “10 percent for the investments and the operating costs.”
Operating under these fiscal requirements “will prevent budget displacement effects, which sooner or later would be to the detriment of other capabilities,” the statement read.
The Netherlands statement indicates that the F-35 will be introduced into its military in 2019, with decommission of the F-16s completing by the mid-202s.
Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on the F-35 program, was predictably enthused about the decision.
“The Netherlands announcement today was huge for the program and the partnership,” Lorraine Martin, Lockheed’s vice president and general manager for the F-35 program, said at the Air Force Association Air & Space Conference here. “We’re really proud to serve them and it’s a great day for the program. It adds one more partner to officially come on board to purchase the aircraft, although all the partners are part of the program.”
Nine countries are partner nations on the F-35 program, including the Netherlands. But countries that sign on as partners are not automatically guaranteed to purchase the planes, leaving supporters of the jet to sweat out competitions around the world.
Other partner nations that have yet to commit to the jet include Denmark, which hopes to select a fighter by mid-2015, and Canada, whose decision to purchase the F-35 has been frozen due to a political scandal.
Martin added that Lockheed is looking to add more international customers via the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.
The F-35 is being offered as an FMS to the Republic of Korea. Korean officials have indicated that the JSF is over their budget, leaving Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle variant as the likely winner of the competition.
“We do understand they are going through their process,” Martin said. “We’re still confident the F-35 is a good solution for them and we look forward to hearing their decision.”