Dutch air force officers are updating their Canadian counterparts about their progress on the acquisition of F-35 fighter jets as the aircraft’s manufacturer tries to convince the Liberal government of the plane’s suitability as an interim replacement for aging CF-18s.
Lt.-Gen. Dennis Luyt, the head of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, said his organization has been providing updates to Canada on its F-35 purchase and aircrew training. “They are very interested in our experiences,” Luyt said in a recent interview.
“We’re on track,” he added. “It’s looking very promising.”
The Netherlands is purchasing the F-35A as the replacement for its F-16 fighter jets. The Dutch parliament approved an initial order of eight aircraft in March 2015.
The first aircraft are to be delivered in 2019 and Dutch pilots and maintenance crews are currently undergoing training in the U.S. The Netherlands will purchase up to 37 F-35s.
A Dutch air force F-35 was recently on display at the international air show in Abbotsford, B.C.
Luyt said if Canada does eventually buy the F-35, that acquisition would further strengthen the user group of nations operating the plane. Having allied air forces capable of being interoperable with each other is important, he added. “If we operate the same platform it’s obviously a big thing,” Luyt explained.
In a June 1 letter, Lockheed Martin offered the Liberal government the F-35 as an “interim” fighter aircraft.
Last year, the Liberals announced a proposal to buy 18 interim fighter jets from Boeing to deal with a capability gap facing the Royal Canadian Air Force. But that multibillion dollar plan to acquire Super Hornet jets has been thrown into limbo after Boeing filed a trade complaint in the U.S. against Bombardier of Quebec. The Liberal government broke off discussions with Boeing on the Super Hornet deal.
Lockheed Martin has seen opportunity in the rift and has told the Liberals it can deliver F-35s on a similar schedule that was being considered for the Boeing planes. Lockheed Martin president Marillyn Hewson said in the June 1 letter to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and then procurement minister Judy Foote, that Canada could acquire the F-35 at a cost of between $80 million U.S. and $85 million U.S. per aircraft.
Sajjan’s office stated that no decisions have been made about the interim fighter jet and that various options are being looked at.
Luyt said the Netherlands conducted an extensive process to purchase a new fighter jet. “The biggest thing we needed (was) to make a technology leap to a 5th Generation aircraft” he pointed out.
Part of the consideration in selecting the F-35 was interoperability with U.S. forces. If the Dutch air force goes into combat it will likely be with the U.S. “That (interoperability) is an important consideration but not the only one,” Luyt explained.
Every F-35 contains components manufactured by Dutch companies, Lockheed Martin has noted. On Aug. 16, the U.S. Department of Defense announced the overseas warehouse and distribution centre for parts for F-35s in Europe would be located in the Netherlands.
Luyt said one of the other main attractions of the F-35 is that it will be constantly upgraded. “It will be state of the art for decades,” he added.