Sunday, April 10, 2011

With the Dutch government looking to finalize plans over its F-16 replacement program in the coming days and weeks, the debate in the country is heating up again.

Legislators are asking ever more questions about cost and schedule of the program, in part reflecting the high degree of flux in the core U.S. program; one hot topic of interest is the status of the F136 engine development.

What is becoming clear from the raft of questions being put to the defense ministry is that in the Netherlands, but also other countries, there still is a poor understanding of how cost changes in the U.S. impact foreign buyers and what they will be expected to pay.

An issue that is coming to light as a result of the latest round of parliamentary questions is that the Dutch defense ministry this month plans to issue a response to parliamentary questions detailing its take on the Canadian F-35 auditor report that spelled out high life-cycle costs for the program and has caused a stir among potential buyers of the program. According to current plans, the Dutch are to buy more JSFs than Canada, so could expect a higher bill, although the Netherlands is expected to curtail its total procurement plans.

Furthermore, the Dutch ministry notes that training of its pilots to start operating F-35s is to begin in mid-2012, in advance of the first aircraft delivery in August 2012. The second IOT&E aircraft, which has yet to be acquired (that decision, too, is pending) would follow in March 2013.

Meanwhile, the Dutch air force continues to shrink. The government announced that a further batch of F-16s has now been dispatched to Chile, which is buying the aircraft second hand. The final handover of six aircraft is planned for September. The F-16 force currently stands at 87 units.

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