The Royal Netherlands Air Force soon will buy another eight or nine F-35 stealth fighters.
The Royal Netherlands Air Force soon will buy another eight or nine F-35 stealth fighters, defense minister Ank Bijleveld said in a July 2019 interview.
The additional F-35s will help the Dutch air force to reequip an additional front-line fighter squadron.
The decision partially restores deep cuts to the Dutch fighter fleet that began at the end of the Cold War and continued through the 2008 global financial crisis. Today the RNLAF operates around 60 F-16s in three front-line squadrons and one training unit.
At its peak in the late 1980s, the Dutch F-16 fleet included more than 200 airframes, making it one of Europe’s most powerful fighter forces.
The Netherlands is a major partner in the U.S.-led F-35 program and originally planned to acquire 114 of the radar-evading warplanes to fully replace the F-16 fleet. But the country’s defense budget shrank and the F-35’s cost rose.
Amsterdam in 2013 budgeted just $6 billion to buy 37 F-35s, enough to equip two F-16 squadrons plus the training unit. Critics pointed out that 37 fighters would be sufficient to support long-term deployments of just a handful of aircraft.
“Because pilots are also busy with training and surveillance of Dutch airspace, only four aircraft could be permanently on a foreign mission,” Dutch newspaper Trouw reported. “Should an [F-35] crash, even that limited assignment would be difficult.”
The first operational F-35 arrived in The Netherlands in January 2019. Deliveries of the initial F-35s should continue through 2023. Most of the Dutch F-35s are coming from the program’s Italy-based factory. There are several F-35 production lines, with the biggest being the American one in Texas.
The RNLAF expects to declare full operating capability with the F-35 in 2024. As a level-two partner in the F-35 program, The Netherlands will serve as a sustainment hub for the maintenance, overhaul and upgrade of European F-35s.
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