The costs of the Joint Strike Fighter, the US fighter jet which is to replace the ageing Dutch fleet of F-16s, will be 1.4 billion euros higher than the original estimate. This is an increase of 20 percent over the amount of 6.2 billion euros which the government initially expected would buy 85 JSF planes. Parliament expressed shock at the increase, particularly at a time when the government has announced 18 billion euros’ worth of budget cuts.
On Thursday, Defence Minister Hans Hillen wrote in a letter to parliament that the higher costs are partly due to delays in the development and production of the first series of JSF planes in the United States. Rising costs of wages, raw materials, tools, and testing equipment also play a role.
In his letter, the minister says that the latest estimate is ‘significantly higher’ than the current JSF budget, whereas the defence budget as a whole will be shrinking over the next few years. Mr Hillen writes that he assumes operational and maintenance costs will amount to nearly 10 billion euros over the next 30 years. There have been no recent reviews of these estimates.
The JSF is to replace the outdated F-16’s of the Royal Dutch Air Force, but the Netherlands has not yet made a final decision on its purchase, even though it is taking part in the JSF’s development. However, the cabinet has announced it wants to buy a second test plane.
In parliament, the Socialist Party and Green Left have said the Netherlands should pull the plug on the project. The SP points out that the defence budget has been cut by one billion euros and that the armed forces are going to sack 10,000 people. The party says the available budget should be used to guarantee good working conditions for defence staff, not to purchase an unnecessary jet fighter.
The Labour Party is equally critical of the cabinet’s plans, and says it would prefer the government purchase an existing jet fighter. The party is opposed to buying test planes, because that is the first phase of a definitive purchase.
Labour believes that Dutch participation in the JSF project will result in fewer orders and less employment than promised. The party says that revenue for Dutch companies will decrease even further if US production figures are lower than initially thought.
Coalition parties VVD and CDA are sticking to the initial JSF budget of 6.2 billion euros. The parties say that if the planes become more expensive, the armed forces will simply have to make do with fewer planes. The two coalition partners also say that the new cost estimate has no impact on the current defence budget and that the purchase of a second test plane can go ahead as planned.
A definitive decision on a successor for the F-16 is not planned for this cabinet period.
© Radio Netherlands Worldwide