New developments in the Dutch JSF story: a parliamentary majority, comprising both partners in the governing coalition and opposition parties, is ruling that the government has to get a fixed-price proposal for the Joint Strike Fighter before it proceeds to the next stage of the program, an order for two test aircraft. According to the NRC Handelsblad newspaper:
State Secretary Jack de Vries (Defense, Christian Democrat) must ask aircraft manufacturers Saab and Lockheed Martin for a legally binding price for the possible successor to the F-16, the parliamentary defense committee decided today. The Defense Committee visited Sweden last weekend to be informed about the Saab Gripen NG. During that visit it became apparent that a majority of Parliament wants more certainty about the price of the candidates.
During the visit the Swedes offered 85 Gripens for 4.8 billion euros, nearly one billion less than the budget that the Ministry of Defense has set for the replacement of the F-16...
Parliament must agree before the end of April on the purchase of two F-35s, in order to join the test phase of the JSF program. A majority of the Lower House, however, now agrees that both producers should be asked for a request for proposal [including] a legally binding price. According to defense spokesman Angelien Eijsink (Labor), the purchase of test aircraft will be delayed if necessary.
What the JSF will cost is still unknown. Efforts of the Netherlands to the U.S. and other JSF partners to obtain a price have so far remained fruitless.
So far, this is the first time that Parliament has successfully enforced a roadblock against the government and the air force, who have been pushing for the JSF.
How Lockheed Martin and the JSF program office will respond will be interesting. Lockheed Martin has been talking for two years about defining a fixed price for a multi-year, multi-national JSF order, but this has clearly been a challenge because the cost of the production aircraft is still not stable - it depends on the team's ability to stay on a projected learning curve - and is subject to outside influences - for example, any cutback in production rates will increase the cost.
For the Netherlands to defer ordering test aircraft, of course, does not mean that the country will not buy JSF - just that its commitment has been deferred. The paradox, though, is that the program office has made clear that every jet counts at this point in the program, both to stay on the production learning curve and to provide assets for what will have to be an incredibly intensive flight test program. Result: delaying the decision means a higher price.
But, a Dutch contact reports, public opinion has shifted: “Why not a fixed price? We have to do this in the same way as buying a house, a car or a vacuum cleaner."
With the same Dutch delegation visiting the US next week, life in the JSF program gets ever more interesting.