Dutch JSF plan weak, lacks teeth: report

The Ministry of Defense will give more clarity regarding its plans with the JSF fighter aircraft that the government is considering to purchase this week. But it is already clear that the Netherlands will not be able to perform many external security missions with the 37 fighter jets in the coming years.

Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert will send the final purchase decision for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) to the Chamber to day or tomorrow. If everything goes well, she will sign the contracts with the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, early in 2015. The cost of the 37 brand new fighter jets amounts to 4.5 billion, but this seems to be only barely enough to deploy four jets for permanent missions.

The ministry's explanation is that the 37 jets are only enough for the Air Force's basic tasks, such as training and monitoring the Dutch airspace. Very little capacity remains for other uses. Five of the jets will remain in Texas permanently, where future Air Force pilots will do their initial training with American colleagues. There are 37 trained pilots for the 32 jets coming to the Netherlands. Because the number of pilots are higher than the number of jets, that they will wear out faster in training and operating costs will rise more quickly.

Defense assumes that an average of 8 of the 37 pilots will be unavailable because of illness, vacation or studies. Of the remaining 29, 20 will be engaged in training and monitoring the Dutch Airspace. That leaves nine pilots to man four jets on missions. The larger number of pilots is required for a rotation system during long mission flights, or to run multiple flights a day.

The Court of Audit is not fully convinced that nine pilots for missions is feasible. Defense assumes that the airspace monitoring will be done together with Belgium from 2016, but no final agreements have been made yet. And if the JSF have to face maintenance problems, like many of Defense's weapons, the will have to be used less.

According to Trouw, the problems will start in 2018, when the first JSF will be put in use. The last F-16's will be removed in 2013. In the first period, from 2018 to 2025, there will be 9 JSF in the United states. This is necessary to test new systems and retrain F-16 pilots on the JSF. This means fewer training hours in the Netherlands and thus fewer combat ready pilots. Between 2023 and 2025, after the last F-16's have fallen out and while there are still 9 JSF's in Texas, there will be only four mission ready pilots in the Netherlands. According to Hennis, that "still needs to be sorted out" and will become more clear during the testing phase until 2018.