The “Avoidable” Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)

The financial and economic crisis is thwarting many of the Balkenende IV cabinet’s intentions, but in the case of the proposed acquisition of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), it is one of the reasons to once again seriously consider if this is a sensible plan. In addition, it is not just the cost that is a good reason. The Ministry of Defense is of the opinion that the replacement of the F-16s presently used by the (Dutch) Air Force by 85 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters costs 5.7 billion euros (Approximately $7.4 billion). According to the latest calculations, that is more than twice what the Noord-Zuidlijn* costs–just to use a random example.

But there are three more recent developments that make a compelling case for reconsideration, such as the conclusion by former defense official Kreemers. In a treatise this month, he claims that the F-16s will only need to be replaced starting in 2022, not in 2013, because they have accumulated fewer flying hours than was previously expected.

Then there was the competing offer by the Swedish aircraft manufacturer Saab, which wants to sell 85 Gripen fighter planes for 4.8 billion euros, almost one billion euros less than what the JSFs will cost according to the latest calculations. An attractive difference.

Secretary of Defense De Vries (Defense, CDA) and his colleagues talk till they are blue in the face, or hit the keyboards till their fingers are raw to parry these to them unwelcome findings: Saab did not include all costs and Kreemers, in a very one-sided manner, has only looked at the number of flying hours. Thus, Defense faces a credibility issue. It is thus not surprising that the JSF, which has always been a potentially divisive issue, is now leading to new divisions in the government coalition.

For the third recent development is the most ominous. These are the conclusions drawn by the Algemene Rekenkamer [Dutch national audit office–similar to the U.S. GAO] earlier this month in a periodic report. In fact, the ministry does not have a complete view into the actual costs of the JSF, let alone the Lower House having a current understanding of it. Whoever in the past was under the impression that Defense was satisfied with any F-16 replacement, as long as it was the JSF, implicitly gets the same impression from the Rekenkamer: “We ascertain,” so reads one conclusion, “that the Ministry of Defense’s project organization for the F-16 replacement is directed towards the arrival of the JSF.” And: “The ministry does not appear, as yet, to take into account the consequences of a possible selection of a different aircraft.”

In the meantime, the cabinet argues with aviation companies over their share in JSF development costs, in which the Netherlands participates, and the U.S. government finances possibly also push the Pentagon to temper its ambitions. According to the “Coalitieakkoord,”** two prototypes have to be acquired this year and a final decision on the JSF must be made in 2010. But then again, wasn’t the Coalitieakkoord rendered obsolete?

* Underground metro presently under construction in Amsterdam.

**The document which defines the policies of the current–Balkenende IV–Dutch coalition cabinet.

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