Final Friday update: The Netherlands will sign a contract for one JSF - but Parliament has to confirm the buy next year, and if it is canceled, the maximum penalty will be EUR20 million. Until then the aircraft is officially "financed" but not ordered.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the start of a formal acquisition process for the production aircraft has been delayed. It was due to happen immediately after the signing of the IOT&E contract but has now been delayed by three years and dropped in the lap of the next government.
Combined with Denmark's decision - also reported this week - to delay a commitment, this has torpedoed plans by Lockheed Martin and the program office to lock-in a multi-nation, multi-year order this year or next. At the same time, though, the program's high-pressure sales tactics have resulted in a public crisis and humiliation for one of the most pro-US governments in Europe.
Update. 1415 US Eastern: The coalition government has decided to delay any decision on ordering JSF test aircraft until next year - averting a possible dissolution of parliament and an election in a time of economic crisis. According to the Handelsblad newspaper, the compromise was proposed by Labor party leader Mariette Hamer and has been signed by other members of the ruling group.
Latest from The Hague, where the Netherlands parliament is stubbornly refusing to approve the purchase of two JSF test aircraft:
After debating late into the night, Parliament decided to resume at 1700 h local time today (1100 h in Washington). A compromise offered by Lockheed Martin - to shift the first airplane back one year - was presented by State Defense Secretary Jack de Vries but rejected by the PvdA Labor party, who carry the deciding vote.
Netherlands national news agency ANP reports that a cabinet crisis is indeed looming.
Defence State Secretary Jack de Vries (CDA) stated that he "formally does not need" a Lower House majority. On the other hand, he added, it is customary to listen to "the House's opinion". If this leads to a majority-backed motion against the purchase, then that would be reason for "discussions within the cabinet'.
The cabinet can ignore the House majority. The PvdA MPs must then choose between two evils: accept being ignored or support a motion of no confidence in the cabinet.
Another good wrap-up from Handelsblad is here.
Question for all concerned: Why would the Christian Democrats (CDA), de Vries' party and the single biggest element in the coalition, bring down the government over two test aircraft? The PvdA has said consistently that they're not opposed to buying JSFs but that they don't want to commit without a fixed price. So what consequences does the CDA think will follow if the Netherlands reneges on its commitment to the US to buy the jets?
Second question: Who is providing adult supervision in the USA? Does President Obama know that the government of a loyal ally could be dissolved, because of US insistence that they buy two test aircraft? Who has decided that de Vries shouldn't be provided with an exit option, rather than being forced to sell the JSF to an increasingly skeptical Parliament? Someone has, but whether that is Obama, Secretary Gates, the program office or someone in between is not clear.
Yesterday's coverage below:
The Dutch parliament is debating right now - 1013 Eastern US time - about whether to authorize the purchase of the first of two F-35A Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft. The PvdA (Labor) party, part of the current ruling coalition, holds the balance (along with a few JSF-skeptics on the right). The debate is expected to continue late into the evening.
In the last few days, the compromise agreement offered by state secretary of defense Jack de Vries has evaporated, with PvdA leaders insisting that it's premature to commit to JSF. At the beginning of this debate today, PvdA defense leader Angelien Eijsink, said that there was "insufficient information" to take a decision.
The question now is whether de Vries can persuade his coalition leaders to use the nuclear sanction - a threat to dissolve the coalition and call for new elections - to bludgeon the PvdA into line.
We will update the story as it develops.
Update: "We are not speaking with the Secretary of State for Defense, but with a lobbyist for Lockheed Martin" - Freedom Party (PVV) MP Hero Brinkman uses unparliamentary language in today's debate.
Update 2: 1130 pm in The Hague and the debate continues. Parliamentary vote tomorrow, but the PvdA is still standing its ground. Meanwhile, Denmark is reported to be preparing to delay its decision: according to the Berlingske Tidende newspaper, defense minister Soren Gade regards the decision as too controversial right now.