The first F-35 Lightning II jet that will be in use by the Dutch military was officially handed over in Texas this week, and the north will play a big role in the creation and deployment of the aircraft.
The Netherlands is currently planning to buy at least 37 F-35 fighter jets, and 16 of those are set to be based at the air field in Leeuwarden. The first squadron should be arriving in Friesland this fall, but it is a distinct possibility that the air base will ultimately be home to even more of the extremely expensive aircraft: each F-35 costs 90 million dollars to build.
In the Spring Memorandum (voorjaarsnota), which should be presented by 1 June, the spending specifics for the current Dutch government budget will shed more light on whether or not the aircraft will be headed to Friesland. But in the meantime, the Leeuwarder Courant reports that the air base is busy making preparations for the planes: 300 construction workers are building a new facility for classrooms and offices for staff and students connected to the F-35.
The biggest local news about the jets this week was the creation of more jobs at the GKN Fokker facilities in Hoogeveen, where components of the jet’s engine, doors and wiring will be manufactured. According to the Dutch ministry of defence, DutchNewsreports that the contract for the F-35s has already generated 1.4 billion euros for Dutch industry, and maintenance contracts are expected to account for an additional 15 to 20 billion euros.
The jet is part of the Joint Strike Fighter programme, which is working to replace the current fighter jet aircraft with newer models. The F-35 Lightning II will replace a range of fighter jets currently in use around the world. The programme costs roughly 12.5 billion dollars a year.
Omrop Fryslan reports that the Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs wants the F-35s to be equipped to carry nuclear weapons, which the current aircraft used by the Dutch Air Force, the F-16, does. The weapons are part of NATO’s nuclear deterrence policy, and a majority of MPs in the Dutch Parliament voted against the next generation of planes having nuclear capabilities in 2012.
Dutch F-16s that were involved in missions in Jordan are currently returning to the Netherlands prior to being decommissioned once the F-35s are ready. The F-16 Flying Falcons have carried out missions in Iraq and Syria over the past three years. The first F-16s entered service in 1978 and were used by the United States Air Force, other NATO members and dozens of other countries around the world.
Photo source: Lawrence Crespo, U.S. Air Force / Wikipedia