The Netherlands orders additional 9 F35A to meet operational requirements

After Norway, it is the turn of the Netherlands to increase their F35A fleet. The Batavian authorities have in fact confirmed that they plan toacquire 9 F35A aircraft to complete the fleet of 37 aircraft ordered so far. The amount of the order would amount to $1,1 billion, and would include spare parts, a simulator and the necessary support to enable the Dutch air forces to lay the foundations for a third operational squadron.

At the end of a tense competition between the F35A, the Rafale, Typhoon and the Swedish Gripen, the Netherlands ordered 85 F35A from Lockheed, based on technical characteristics and theoretical financial representations since the aircraft was not yet flying, for an amount of €5,5 billion. In 2013, faced with the explosion in program costs, and in the overall dynamic in Europe of reduction in Defense spending, this order was reduced to 37 aircraft, and its amount to €4,5 billion. But maintaining a permanent operational posture with less than 40 devices is a very difficult, if not impossible, task. In addition to the aircraft under maintenance, which still represent half of the F35A fleet, a certain number of aircraft must be dedicated to pilot training, others to Defense of the Sky, and some must respond to requests from the NATO. In addition, aircraft that are deployed outside the country, whether for exercises, reassurance missions, or for external operations, must have a potential[efn_note]representing the number of flight hours that a device can carry out before having to undergo a heavy maintenance visit[/efn_note] sufficient to be able to carry out a certain number of missions, and to have a reserve potential if necessary.

F35 Refueler F16 Netherlands Defense Analysis | Fighter aircraft | Military aircraft construction
a Dutch Air Force F35A and F16 flank a KDC-10 tanker aircraft

In fact, the Dutch air forces, like the Norwegian forces before them, came to the conclusion that it was essential to have a third fighter squadron to satisfy this operational cycle, although relatively low intensity, since the countries -Bas have only participated in few external operations in recent years. Hence the new order announced today, which also suggests an additional order for 9 aircraft, which will probably be necessary to have 3 full squadrons. The fact remains that the Dutch authorities managed to go from an order of 85 devices for €5,5 billion in 2008, to a total order of 46 devices for €5,5 billion in 2019. Enough to command respect!

On the other hand, it is clear that the unit price of the F35A has actually been falling for some time. Thus, this new order for 9 devices, accompanied by a simulator and spare parts, the unit price of the device falls well below the €100 million mark in flight condition. However, we must not forget that the bulk of the investments, in terms of infrastructure, maintenance benches, and staff training, will have been financed during the previous order. On the other hand, the maintenance costs of the aircraft seem to show no signs of slowing down, and remain dramatically high, beyond $30.000 per flight hour.

F16 Denmark F35 Defense Analysis | Fighter aircraft | Military aircraft construction
With only 27 F35s, the Danish air forces will also encounter significant difficulties in carrying out their peacetime missions.

This order should question certain other customers of the F35A program, such as Belgium with 34 aircraft, or Denmark with 27 aircraft, which have also ordered micro-fleets, and which will quickly have to face the same constraints as the Dutch air forces. . We can wonder to what extent these limits were actually unknown to the manufacturer, but also to the military authorities who supervised the program selection processes. Indeed, the French Navy, which nevertheless does not have the operational constraints of a single air force, has long made it known that it must rely on 3 flotillas, and more than 40 aircraft in the fleet, to ensure a consistent volume of operations, while maintaining a sufficient level of training for its crews. In addition, the maintenance difficulties of an aircraft like the F35A, which requires more than 35 hours of maintenance per hour of flight, have also been known for several years.

Beyond purely technical questions of fleet management, the tensions which continue to appear in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa should also raise awareness about the format of air fleets. designed as precisely as possible, for peacetime missions. A country like Russia, which only has a GDP double that of the Netherlands, builds 45 to 50 new combat planes for its air force every year, more than there will be in the force Batavian air force. Enough to question the validity of the formats of the air forces of many European countries...

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