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JSF - A good story, or a fairy tale?

Friday 20 September 2013

photo Garry Piggott

It is a mystery why the government is pressing ahead with its decision to buy the JSF fighter jet, writes Garry Piggott.

Are the members of the PvdA Labour party hopelessly naïve or just plain stupid, given the sudden outcry over the government’s budget day announcement that it plans to go ahead and spend €4.5bn on the much-maligned Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35.

After all, it’s been clear for a very long time that the senior partner in the current coalition, the so-called free market liberal VVD, decided to buy the JSF a long time ago and has no intention of changing its mind.

The centre-left Labour party, on the other hand, has changed its official stance on the JSF several times, largely depending on whether it was in opposition or part of a short-lived coalition.

Labour party leader Diederik Samson on Thursday claimed that his party was still undecided on the JSF and denied he was suppressing internal debate on the issue. Who knows, he may even believe that himself. Few others do.


The consternation among PvdA party members and MPs seems even stranger if you look back to July of this year, when the government announced it planned to go ahead and buy the replacement for the Dutch armed forces’ current fighter jet, the F-16.

This was with the full backing of a commission that included foreign affairs minister Frans Timmermans and finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, both from the PvdA.

It seems they didn’t feel it necessary to consider a long-awaited report on the JSF by the government’s own national auditor, Algemene Rekenkamer, which was due out just two days after this week’s official announcement .

That report was pretty damning when it was sent to parliament. There is no guarantee that the sky-rocketing price of the JSF will not rise even further and that the €4.5bn set aside will be enough to buy the 37 aircraft the government has earmarked, the auditor said.

Nor is it certain that the 37 aircraft will be enough to protect Dutch air space (from what, we wonder?) and take part in international peace missions. It is worth remembering at this point that the original order was for 85 fighter jets, a number that has dropped steadily to the current 37 as costs have sky-rocketed.

Who’s to say that the Dutch government’s €4.5bn budget will eventually only be enough to buy 20 aircraft, or 10, or five?

Slavish devotion

So perhaps even more peculiar than the hysteria within the PvdA is the VVD’s slavish devotion to the JSF project, regardless of the countless negative reports on the jet fighter.

Predictably, defence minister Jeanine Hennis of the VVD on Thursday dismissed the negative aspects of the auditor’s report and with the fixed smile of the media trained claimed in a television interview that the cabinet had a ‘good story’ and it was sticking to it. A good story is apparently enough in political la-la land.

The JSF is indeed a rich source of stories, but very few of them are good. The project has been beset with numerous delays, cost overruns and design flaws since its inception in the late 1990s.

Now there are doubts that the JSF – or F35 – will even fly. Time Magazine has already published a number of highly critical reports on the troubled aircraft and the stories emerging from US media and Pentagon sources just keep getting worse.

The JSF is too heavy and lacks the manoeuvrability required to compete with its latest Russian or Chinese-built rivals. In fact it cannot even compete with the F-16s it is supposed to replace and would require air support from those same F-16s in a combat situation.

It cannot fly in bad weather, nor in clouds and cannot fly within 25 miles of lightning – odd, given its full name of F-35 Lightning II - and its stealth coating simply peels off during supersonic flight.

To add to the JSF’s woes, the super helmet - quite literally Lockheed’s crowning glory – that is supposed to give pilots 360-degree vision in a combat situation does not work. Not to mention that bits keep falling off the aircraft after test flights.


In fact, so far there have been very few positive stories on the JSF, part from those coming from Lockheed itself and certain other questionable sources. So it’s hardly surprising that governments around the world are currently reconsidering their original commitment to the JSF project, given the price tag of €200m (and rising) per aircraft.

So it’s a mystery why successive Dutch cabinets have refused to reconsider the Dutch government’s commitment to an aircraft that may never fly and even if it does will almost certainly never deliver a performance worthy of its monstrous price tag.

The JSF may well turn out to be more firmly grounded than the fairy tales our politicians are keen to fob us off with.

© DutchNews.nl

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