It looks as if the Netherlands coalition government may have reached a compromise that will allow it to go ahead with the order for two F-35A Joint Strike Fighter test and evaluation aircraft. According to Dutch newspaper reports, the government will get to buy the test aircraft - but only on condition that the decision on the full order is postponed until 2011 or 2012. It had been planned for next year.
Previously, a skeptical opposition group had persuaded a majority of the parliament to block the purchase of the test aircraft until the US provided the Netherlands with a fixed price - which nobody is in a position to do. Defense Minister Jack de Vries, however, threatened a fight that could split the ruling coalition. (Follow the links for the full back-story.)
If the Dutch do sign an order under those conditions it will be both a victory and a defeat for the JSF program. Victory, because those aircraft are needed to augment the test force and because it represents a big cash commitment to the ultimate selection of the JSF by the Netherlands.
Defeat, because the absence of the Dutch leaves a big hole in plans for a multi-year, multi-national JSF order, with the carrot of a fixed price and the stick of penalties for re-scheduling. The JSF team has been promoting this idea since 2007 and had wanted to get commitments this year, but now will have to wait - and plan on demonstrating performance, meeting milestones and getting closer to a fixed price before closing the deal.
Moreover, a week, let alone two or three years, is a long time in politics; and de Vries has been forced to use the nuclear option of splitting the coalition to get this far. For the Netherlands, which a couple of years ago was probably a more solid JSF prospect than the US Navy, that's quite a change.