COLOGNE, Germany – Dutch defense minister Ank Bijleveld has eliminated the country’s budget cap for F-35 purchases, opening the possibility of buying more planes in the future, a spokesman confirmed to Defense News.
The defense ministry spokesman described the move as “just a formality” that would not require parliamentary approval, as the Dutch objective of buying 37 copies of the Lockheed Martin-made jet for €4.7 billion remains in place. But it means “we leave the option open to buy new planes” beyond those already envisioned in the budget, the spokesman said.
The development was first reported by the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, which wrote that the air force was angling to eventually get 67 aircraft. That amount would be enough to field four squadrons in the Netherlands, according to the newspaper.
Dick Zandee, a defense analyst at the Dutch Clingendael foreign policy think tank, said the recently released 2019 budget still reflects the government's target of buying 37 planes. But the budget cap elimination at this time could set the stage for additional contracts in a few years' time, once deliveries of the batch already on order are nearing completion.
The Dutch are set to take delivery of eight F-35s in 2019. That's in addition to two test aircraft already produced. The fifth-generation aircraft are meant to replace the country's fleet of 60 or so F-16s, with yearly deliveries scheduled between six to eight planes until the target number of 37 is reached.
That inventory will allow the Netherlands to field four F-35s for operations, considering that a certain number is always set aside for training, undergoing maintenance or otherwise unavailable to deploy, said Zandee.
“There is a lot of pressure from NATO that 37 are not enough,” he said, adding that there has been talk in Dutch defense circles to up the number to 52. “The air force always wants more” of the planes, and the service would consider an increase to 52 as an intermediate step to get an even greater number later, Zandee told Defense News.
Meanwhile, the jet is facing some pushback in the Netherlands over its development price tag and the high cost of ownership. “The criticism is that you're buying an aircraft that is not fully developed yet," said Zandee.
But, he added,"The attitude is that the Americans are throwing so many billions at the program that problems will be solved."