Dutch defense secretary Jack de Vries announced Thursday that the defense ministry's evaluation had selected the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the best replacement for the F-16, over the Saab Gripen NG.
This came as the biggest surprise since the sun rose over Amsterdam this morning. The Dutch establishment's predilection for a US deal, and the JSF in particular, has been more marked even than Norway's, to the point where Dutch air force officers incorporate Lockheed Martin slides directly into their own PowerPoint presentations.
From a presentation by RNlAF Col Robert Geerdes, Oslo 12/2007
De Vries had to be dragged kicking and screaming into conducting the limited comparative assessment - not a competition, since none of the numbers provided by Lockheed Martin or Saab was binding - which has just ended.
What's interesting - in a review of the text of the ministry's full statement to Parliament - is that, like the Norwegians, the Dutch have come up with some unusual numbers in order to justify a pro-JSF decision. For example:
Life-cycle and operational costs were given a low weighting on the grounds that they were unpredictable. This ignores the fact that one contender combines an in-service airframe (with some modifications) and cockpit, with an in-service engine. Swedish, Czech and US Navy experience should provide an accurate assessment of several major LCC factors.
The statement to parliament asserts that Gripen NG could not reach initial operational capability before 2020 - five years later than promised by Saab, and a huge factor, because it would require another life extension program for Dutch F-16s.
The RAND Europe oversight report on the Dutch assessment suggests that this and other assumptions reflected history - but, as our colleague Airpower has pointed out, the last major Gripen upgrade was delivered on time and under budget. (Note, by the way, that the independent RAND report commented only on the methodology of the Dutch assessment and the validity of the requirements, not on its assumptions or conclusions.)
At the same time, the Dutch pitted the NG, not against the IOC-standard Block 3 JSF, but against the post-IOC Block 4, which is not yet defined by contract.
Moreover, the Ministry has misinformed parliament as to the availability of the JSF: it states that the Block 3 will be ready in 2013 and the Block 4 in 2015. In fact, as has been reported here since May and confirmed recently by Lockheed Martin, systems development and demonstration (SDD) won't finish until 2014, suggesting that Block 4 will follow in 2016.
Edited: The Dutch citizenry might want to ask Mr De Vries why, if the JSF is such a good fit for the RNlAF, the evaluation needs to be stacked in its favor.
But on further reflection, this may reflect the same factor as played out in Norway: the need to make the decision stick. By presenting a negative view of the NG, the JSF decision looks better, and potential critics are disarmed.
Also, a point made by a Saab guy last week in Cologne: Both the Norwegian and Dutch decisions came weeks after the US election. Given that the powers-that-be wanted JSF, the advent of Obama and the departure of Bush (whom many of their citizens regarded as a cretin and/or a criminal) is an opportunity not to be missed.
And by the time anyone realizes that Obama, Gates and national security advisor James Jones are not about to throw the gates of GTMO open, or to stop handing suspected bad actors over to the unique expertise of the Jordanians, it will all be too late.