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The Netherlands has decided to delay and stretch out its acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In a July 1 letter to parliament, defense minister Hans Hillen says that a revised plan, reflecting the most recent schedule changes "starts the flow of production aircraft in 2019, and lasts until 2027".If, as is most likely, those are delivery years, they represent a three-to-four-year slip relative to the numbers in the most recent production, sustainment and follow-on development (PSFD) memorandum of understanding, which called for the Netherlands to sign contracts for nine aircraft in 2014 and ten in 2015 and subsequent years, with the final batch being ordered in 2021. (Deliveries are two years on from contract signature.) This follows Norway's announcement that it plans to order most of its aircraft no earlier than 2016, to support 2018 deliveries and a 2019 initial operational capability (IOC). The latter date is to be confirmed, since Norway plans to declare IOC with the Block 4 configuration. Once the US has firmed up its own Block 3 IOC date (not yet declared by the US operator, but looking like 2018) the availability of Block 4 should become clearer. The moves announced by Norway, the Netherlands and the UK in the past year have already eliminated 90 aircraft in the 2011-2016 buy years, compared with the program of record. The change is not surprising given delays to development and IOC dates: international customers can clearly benefit from delaying their orders, since according to the most recent Selected Acquisition Report, an F-35A ordered in 2018 costs $35 million less than a 2014 model. Partner orders are important to the JSF program's plans for a steep production ramp to high rates. Under the non-binding PSFD MoU, eight international partners are expected to order 211 JSFs between now and 2016. This compares with 325 for the US and is larger than the number of F-35As that the USAF plans to buy in the same period. In 2016 alone, the partners are expected to order 86 JSFs to the US total of 108.At the Paris air show, JSF officials said that Turkey was expected to make a commitment this year (reportedly for six aircraft) and that Italy and Australia should begin buying in 2012. What the program needs to shore up the production ramp, however, is for those customers to diverge from the example of the UK, Norway and Netherlands, which have committed to small numbers of test and training aircraft while pushing bulk deliveries to 2018 and beyond.
ar99, jsf, tacair, netherlands
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