The Dutch defense budget is too tight to achieve the ambitions for the Royal Netherlands Air Force's (RNLAF) F-16s, the Netherlands Court of Auditors concludes in a report monitoring the replacement of F-16s.
Dutch Ministry of Defense photo
The auditors concluded that there is a growing imbalance between the Dutch government's ambitions, the budget for flying hours, the number of pilots and the number of aircraft. In 2011-15, the Dutch Ministry of Defense plans to cut expenditures by €2.3 billion and make structural savings of €635 million in subsequent years. To reduce expenditure, it will sell 19 of its 87 F-16s. The number of pilots has already been reduced to 68, resulting in fewer flying hours for the larger number of F-16s, including the 19 to be sold, which have not yet been grounded. The auditors calculate that the budget for F-16 flying hours is incompatible with training enough pilots to participate in an international mission like NATO's Operation Unified Protector over Libya last year, during which the RNLAF did not even deliver ordnance.
The additional €300 million Defense Minister Hans Hillen said must be invested in the F-16s does not include additional expenditures such as increased materiel operating costs, the replacement of wings, and the cost of air safety, airworthiness and maintenance and operational self-protection starting in 2021, and these costs will rise the longer it takes to introduce the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) into RNLAF service, according to the auditors.
The auditors point to the uncertainty in how Hillen plans to allocate his materiel budget between the JSF and F-16. The Dutch government has reserved €4.5 billion to replace the F-16, of which €500 million will be spent before the end of 2015. The auditors concluded that Dutch involvement in and the possible cost of withdrawing from the JSF program will increase further and that the U.S. Defense Department's failure to take a decision in 2011 has created extra uncertainty about the planning and costs of the Dutch JSF program and the consequences for Dutch industry.