The American F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet is the only plane which fits the demands of the Dutch armed forces, junior defence minister Jack de Vries told MPs on Thursday evening.
Alternative jet fighters such as Sweden’s Saab Gripen and the Lockeed Martin Advanced F16 do not meet the ‘desired operational level’, De Vries was reported as saying by the NRC.
The JSF emerged as the best out of a new evaluation of potential replacements for the air force’s ageing F16s which had been ordered by parliament, De Vries said. In terms of quality the F-35 ‘is considerably better’ than the others. It was also cheaper and the defence ministry expected it to be cheaper to maintain, he said.
The Netherlands has been involved in the development programme for the JSF since 2002. A final decision on whether or not to commit to buying the fighter jet should have been taken in 2006, but the cabinet fell, forcing new elections. The Labour party made a further review of alternatives to the JSF a condition for joining the new government.
The manufacturers of two other planes – the Eurofighter and Ragale – declined to be included in the evaluation, saying the Netherlands had already committed to the JSF, says the NRC.
The Saab Gripen, written off by the defence ministry in 2002, was resurrected as a potential candidate to meet parliament’s wishes.
MPs say they still want to make site visits to both Saab and Lockheed Martin before making a final choice about which test plane to buy.
Some 80 Dutch firms are involved in the US-led project to develop the JSF. But negotiations between the aerospace industry and government about the cost of the development programme have run into trouble.
In October, the NRC reported that the tension between the partners stems from the government’s insistence that any shortfall in its development budget of €858m be covered by the aerospace industry. That shortfall has now reached €308m, according to the economic affairs ministry in the NRC.
The aerospace industry says the financial benefits of the project are now far greater than originally thought and the deal will benefit the taxpayer at the industry’s expense.
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