F-16 fighters to be phased out
Today’s F-16 fighters were adopted by the Dutch Air Force in the late 1970s. In the course of the coming ten years, the F-16 will become obsolete. In 2013, the Dutch Cabinet decided to replace the F-16 with the F-35 Lightning II. This is popularly known as the JSF, short for Joint Strike Fighter. Companies in various countries are coordinating in developing the new fighter. The Netherlands is contributing €800 million towards the development of the new aircraft. Through this partnership the Netherlands is closely involved in its development.
Operational test phase
In 2008, the Netherlands decided to participate with the United States and the United Kingdom in the F-35’s operational test phase. For this, the Netherlands acquired two F-35s. Air Force pilots and technicians are testing both F-35s and recording their findings. The test phase will continue until 2018. In 2019, the United States will compile a test report. Then the Netherlands may use the aircraft for training and operational purposes.
Residents near the Leeuwarden and Volkel airbases are worried about the noise that F-35 fighters will make. To assuage these concerns the Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) has organised noise experience flights. These enable local residents to experience the F-35’s noise level for themselves and form their own opinion. Local residents have experienced a marginal difference between the noise of the present F-16 and the F-35, which was confirmed by monitored noise measurements.
On 6 November 2013, a motion by Dutch MP Angelien Eijsink (PvdA) was adopted advising that a permanent noise monitoring system be established around the Leeuwarden and Volkel airbases. This noise monitoring system comprising twenty monitors tests whether the noise remains within the legal limits. It also gives local residents a better insight into the noise levels of the fighter aircraft. The aim is to establish a permanent noise monitoring system.
Price reduction for aircraft
A total investment budget of €4.5 billion and annual operating costs of €270 million have been earmarked for the F-16’s replacement. In theory, this allows for the purchase of 37 aircraft. The Netherlands intends to acquire eight F-35 Lightning II aircraft in 2020. The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) is developing an option to purchase several F-35 aircraft over a period of years, a so-called block buy option. That would reduce the price the Netherlands pays per F-35 aircraft. The actual reduction would depend on the number of aircraft and the results of the contract negotiations. Defence minister Hennis-Plasschaert will inform the House of Representatives as soon as more details about the block buy option become available.