JSF likely postponed until 2011 or 2012

By our news desk

The Dutch government will likely postpone the purchase of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) until after its current term, sources say.

The three coalitian partners had originally agreed that a decision about the JSF, the replacement for the F-16 fighter plane, would be taken in 2010 at the latest. But on Tuesday sources in The Hague said the decision would likely be put off until 2011 or even 2012. In the meantime, only one or two test planes would be purchased.

The Dutch participation in the development of the American fighter plane has been a source of controversy in parliament since the initial decision to get involved in 2002. The Christian Democrats are in favour of proceeding with the 2010 deadline but Labour has difficulty swallowing the JSF. The small orthodox Christian ChristenUnie too wants more clarity about the exact cost of the JSF before taking a final decision.

The JSF (or F-35) has become a hot political issue in the past few weeks. A majority in parliament, which included Labour, last week sent the annual JSF report back to defence minister Jack de Vries for clarification. A planned debate about the purchase of two test planes was postponed until next week as a result. During a parliamentary debate about the JSF, Labour spokesperson Angelien Eijsink was highly critical of the many uncertainties and the lack of information about the JSF.

The defence ministry has budgeted 6.2 billion euros for the JSF. How many F-35s this will buy is uncertain because a final price has yet to be fixed. Officially, the Netherlands intends to buy 85 planes, but in 2010 the government can only approve the sale of a first batch of 55 planes. A compromise - no final decision in 2010 but a purchase of one or two test planes - would allow both the Christian Democrats and Labour to save face.

Since it joined the JSF programme in 2002, the Netherlands have committed over 1 billion euros to the development of the JSF. Last December, the defence ministry said the JSF's two competitors, the Saab Gripen 'Next Generation' and the 'Advanced' F-16, did not meet operational criteria.

Should the Dutch parliament approve the purchase of the test planes next week, Dutch fighter pilots will take part in the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) phase in 2013. Apart from the US, the only other country still involved in the IOT&E phase is Britain. Taking part in the IOT&E phase will cost the Netherlands 274 million euros.

The introduction of the first two operational JSF fighter planes is now scheduled for 2014. In order to get the planes delivered by that date, the Dutch government will need to place an order in 2011, and sign the contracts in 2012 at the latest.

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