The new coalition, sworn into office in November, expects to finalize a new defense policy and F-35 purchase plans this year.
“The question is ... do we want to be able to do the same kinds of missions as in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” said Marcel de Haas, a defense analyst and retired officer. “If we quit the F-35, it will cost us more than we have already paid and will cost us jobs. But the F-16 needs to be replaced - and soon.”
A defense source close to the talks said there was no chance of the Netherlands ordering as many as 85 F-35s. “This number is completely out of date,” the source said, adding discussions were focused on a procurement target of 52 to 68 planes.
With a budget of about 4.5 billion euros ($5.82 billion) to replace the F-16s, the Netherlands can only afford 33 to 35 F-35s, the source said, citing estimates from the General Auditor’s office, which checks the government spends public funds as intended.
Withdrawing from the program and buying F-35s off the shelf would further raise the cost, the General Auditor’s office said.
Defense analysts say an order that small would not allow the Dutch military to do the kind of missions it has in the past.
“Given the F-35’s high price tag, large block orders are unlikely,” said Richard Aboulafia, analyst at Teal Group Corp.
The average price per fighter has almost doubled from $69 million to as much as $137 million since the F-35 program began in 2001, according to a U.S. congressional watchdog agency. The Pentagon’s F-35 program chief insists the plane’s price will have dropped to around $90 million by 2018.
Lockheed officials visited Dutch officials earlier this year to reassure them about progress on technical challenges, efforts to lower production costs and flight testing, despite two engine-related groundings of the new stealth fighter in 2013.